Thursday, November 25, 2010
REVIEW: Alchemy and Meggy Swann
Hark! Mistress Cushman, you are a luminous scribe, a queen who is greatly skilled at abracadra to summon your reader across ages back into the days of....
That's enough of making your eyes suffer and bleed by me writing super ol' school. What was I trying to say there? Cushman is AMAZING at allowing her readers to enter into the past. Cushman uses historical vocabulary, tries to maintain the authentic voice of her characters and the keeps the worldview of the 1500s and still manages to make her books interesting and relatable.
Appetizer: Meggy Swann has just arrived in London to live with her father. Her mother didn't want her. And it would seem her father would have preferred a boy who could serve him instead of a girl who felt pain with every step.
As Meggy adjusts to life in London and struggles to get around on her crutches to find food for herself and her goose, Louise, her father hides himself away in his workroom, trying to transform metal into gold and find the elixir for immortality.
When Meggie stumbles upon the fact that her father may be connected to a plot to assassinate a noble person, readers can reflect on what they would do if they were in Meggie's position, facing her difficult choice.
The fact that Meggie is sent to be raised by a single-parent is a modern parallel that a lot of readers could relate to. Plus, the fact that Meggie had to deal with bilateral hip dysplasia can begin a lot of great conversations about the history of medicine and the way that people with disability have been discriminated against in the past (and now!). Also, since Cushman's Author's Note does a great job of exploring how the study of alchemy would lead the way toward scientific inquiry and the study of chemistry.
To go a Language Arts direction, I'd also use the book to study ballads and have my students write their own.
I enjoyed the book. As I attempted to say in my bad Elizabethan English, I was very impressed by the way Cushman managed to draw me into the story. For the past several months, I'd felt like I'd lost my ability to engage with historical novels, but this book proved that not all hope was lost.
I really liked Meggy's struggle to try to understand her father and to try to know how to reveal the assassination plot without putting someone she cares about at risk.
BTW, "Ye toads and vipers" will now be a regular part of my vocabulary. I also plan to start calling annoying people Master or Mistress Peevish. You should be prepared for me to say these things to you, World.
"Ye toads and vipers," the girl said, as her granny often had, "ye toads and vipers," and she snuffled a great snuffles that echoed in the empty room" (p. 1).
"Her name was Margret Swann, but her gran had called her Meggy, and she was newly arrived from Millford village, a day's ride away. The bit of London she had seen was all soot and slime, noise and stink, and its streets were narrow and dark. Now she was imprisoned in this strange little house on Crooked Lane. Crooked Lane. How the carter had laughed when he learned their destination" (p. 2).
"I do not allow beggars at my house" was the first thing he said to her. "Begone and clear my doorstep."
"Pray pardon, sir, we are not beggars," the carter had told him. "If you be Master Ambrose this be your daughter, come at your bidding" (p. 7).
"Just what does he do in the rooms upstairs?
He searches for the aqua vitae, the elixir of life that can rid substances of their impurities and make all things perfect." Roger took another bite of bread. "Transformation, he says it is, changing things in their essence."
"And that will turn metal into gold?"
You have seen him do it?" Meggy asked.
"Nay, he still has not the method, although he swears he is close to finding it" (p. 20).
Tasty Rating: !!!