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Remember when women had little authority without the permission of their husbands or fathers or brothers? Sarah Penner‘s suspenseful mystery, The Lost Apothecary, tells a story of women’s rights, all the way from 1791 to the present day. 

Nella is a female apothecary in London 1791 who helps women by providing poisons to end abusive relationships. Nella has two rules: 

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.

Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

Eliza is a twelve year old young girl also in London, looking for a way to escape the unwanted attention of her employer.  Needing to escape her situation, Eliza becomes intrigued by the apothecary’s powers. When Nella helps Eliza, they become friends.

Caroline, who lives in present day London, is grieving her husband’s infidelity instead of going on her ten-year wedding anniversary trip. When she goes on a mudlarking  tour of the Thames River, she discovers a glass vial with the markings of a bear. This discovery puts Caroline on a quest to determine where the vial came from and if it has any historical significance.

The Lost Apothecary is a phenomenal mystery and commentary on women’s history. I enjoyed Penner’s suspenseful writing and use of historical details. For example, each apothecary’s bottles and vials had etchings to help distinguish them from other apothecaries. A focus on women’s history and the minute details that define people’s lives are repeated in Nella’s statement that “history doesn’t record the intricacies of women’s relationships with one another; they’re not to be uncovered.” The interwoven stories of Nella, Eliza and Caroline expose the ways in which women have supported each other through the ages.

Megan Fink Brevard

Megan Fink Brevard, a school librarian, began her career in children’s book publishing. She is an active member of YALSA and has served on national award committees such as the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature 2018 and the YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults 2012. She has also served on the Teen Read Week and the Best Books for Young Adults committees.