The Apprentices by Maile Meloy

the apprenticesReading level: 6
Lexile: 740
Series: The Apothecary book 2
Genre: historical fiction, adventure
ELL-Friendly: Yes (mostly)
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Goodreads summary:

Two years have passed since Janie Scott last saw Benjamin Burrows, the mysterious apothecary’s defiant son who stole her heart. On the other side of the world, Benjamin and his father are treating the sick and wounded in the war-torn jungles of Vietnam. But Benjamin has also been experimenting with a magical new formula that allows him to communicate with Janie across the globe. When Benjamin discovers that she’s in trouble, he calls on their friend Pip for help. The three friends are thrown into a desperate chase around the world to find one another, while unraveling the mystery of what threatens them all.

Review contains minor spoilers.

The back of the book has a review from Ann Patchett, which says The Apprentices is even better than The Apothecary, so I was excited to find out for myself. I wasn’t exactly disappointed with The Apprentices (I quite liked it), but I do think The Apothecary is better.

Things I loved about The Apprentices include Jin Lo being awesome, Janie blossoming into a brilliant chemist, Benjamin and his father being an unstoppable team, the complicated love interest, Pip turning into a successful and responsible (well, almost) young man, and the desperation to save one another. I also liked the different perspectives of the various characters: Jin Lo, Benjamin, Pip, Janie, and Benjamin’s dad.

My absolute favorite scene was when Jin Lo was in her old house and released the spirits of her family as the house became covered with vines and plants. Seeing her family as ghosts was sort of pressing the limits of the genre, but it was so beautiful that Jin Lo had closure and set her family’s spirits free.

I learned about John Frum, which I didn’t know was a thing/person until doing some research. It’s an example of how Europeans have messed with indigenous peoples’ cultures so that they become dependent on outside sources. In a way, I was pleased that the kids brought back “cargo” for the islanders, cargo that was needed like medicine and gauze, but I also wished the islanders realized they didn’t need to be dependent on European goods. But that wouldn’t be very realistic, I guess.

While I liked the different perspectives, I didn’t like that it prevented the reader from really getting to know any character in-depth. I know many characters very shallowly (which is a word, apparently). In that way, the story is more about plot than characters, which is a shame because that’s what I love the most in The Apothecary.

Janie’s character was seen far too little. I was so intrigued to find that she was a chemist, designed a brilliant experiment, and was kidnapped, but I was disappointed that she turned into a damsel in distress. After being kidnapped, she didn’t do much.

Despite all that I disliked, I really enjoyed The Apprentices, and the entire series is definitely worth your time. If you fell in love with Janie and Benjamin in the first book, it’s nice to see how they turned out two years later at age 16 and 18, respectively.


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