A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will want to have their atlas handy, as the action takes characters to most continents on the globe, not to mention a few islands. Besides continuing The Apothecary's excellent examination of Cold War issues and culture, not to mention World War II and other events underlying the issues, The Apprentices frequently evokes the stories that excited kids of the time, including Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. A school Shakespeare production is important to character development; Janie's fascination with chemistry and good math skills prove helpful. One of the subplots involves "cargo cults" of the South Pacific, a fascinating and little-known cultural development in the wake of wartime occupation of islands by U.S. forces in World War II. Some dialogue in French, Italian, and other languages.
Courage, friendship, family, and loyalty are all essential values here, as are intelligence, creativity, and the ability to change your mind as you learn more. There are many ethical issues to contemplate (e.g. world-saving vs. saving your loved ones), and few pat answers -- part of what makes the story and characters compelling.
Positive Role Models
Both Janie and Benjamin act with courage, conscience, and creativity in the face of life-threatening challenges, as do several of their adult friends and family members. Former pickpocket Pip, now a British TV star, retains his resourcefulness and irreverent charm; his relationship with the truth may be highly flexible, but he uses his skills to save his friends.
Violence & Scariness
Some characters, including beloved ones, meet a violent death, while others are kidnapped, imprisoned, and otherwise endangered. The past deaths of characters' family members in wartime atrocities are retold, without much gore but with much emotional impact.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Brief (and sometimes long-awaited) kissing between teen characters. One of the bad guys is cheating on his wife with his beautiful secretary, though there's no explicit description of their activities.
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Products & Purchases
Some mention of commercial products of the era, some of which (e.g. Coca-Cola) still exist today; more scene-setting than product endorsement.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Many characters ingest magic substances (some natural, e.g. a mushroom than speeds language learning, and some man-made, e.g. Benjamin's telepathy-enhancing potions); adult characters consume alcoholic beverages, and members of an island tribe force one of the teens to consume large amounts of kava. A seagoing couple's provisions include a small amount of opium, which they say is for toothache. The "forgetting wine" that played such an important role in The Apothecary returns.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Apprentices, sequel to Maile Meloy's outstanding young-reader debut, The Apothecary, is a fascinating brew of fantasy, history, teen romance, and life-and-death adventure. In 1954, two years after the events of the first book, Janie Scott and Benjamin Burrows, son of the mysterious Apothecary, are now 16 and continents apart, trying to reconnect. As with The Apothecary, much of the plot involves efforts to keep the atomic bomb from falling into bad hands, with attendant ethical complexities and character development. One character's father is cheating on her mother with his secretary; different cultural and family expectations cause trouble as well as mutual enlightenment. Some heroic characters as well as villains meet a violent death, while others are kidnapped, imprisoned, and endangered. Wartime atrocities and violence, including torture and the massacre of a character's family, are presented, often in flashback, in non-graphic ways that still make clear the full horror.
Is It Any Good?
Some Apothecary fans may be disappointed at the relatively brief (or sometimes non-) appearances of favorite secondary characters, but the current cast and their interactions are deftly handled. The Apprentices will make a lot more sense to those who've already read The Apothecary, as many characters (and their issues) return from that story. The fast-moving plot has characters whisked from one side of the world to the other as new, sinister villains threaten the world and our heroes; Ian Schoenherr's illustrations add vivid appeal. The story brings a wealth (which might border on overload if it weren't so intriguing) of anthropological field reports, mid-20th-century history and political issues, ethical dilemmas, and magic -- as well as the social difficulties of high school. A third volume is in the works to resolve some of the pending cliffhangers.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.