I would have killed to read The After-Room when I was a pre-teen. I probably would have snapped at my parents if they interrupted me (or, I would have done that anyway #becauseteenager).
The book contains everything I adored at that age: a smart, clever heroine, her equally smart and brooding boyfriend, a whole crew of interesting friends, magic, a historical and foreign setting, lackadaisical parental oversight, the ability to save the world. I mean—I pretty much fall for all that now.
The After-Room is the last in the Maile Meloy’s Apothecary series, so I was a bit worried I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on, but the holes are filled quickly and the action starts right away.
Janie and Benjamin, after their earlier adventures, have settled in America with Janie’s family. It’s 1955 and they’re trying to be normal. Of course, they’re not normal, because they can make potions and have telekinetic powers etc. Benjamin communicates with his dead father, who tells him they need to help their old friend Jin Lo, who as two complicated missions on the go. One of them involves destroying uranium and the other is about finding an AWOL American naval officer who has taken off with a nuke. Adventure ensures. Danger, drama, confusion, missed connections, secret messages, kidnappings.
This book has limited illustrations, which adds to the fantasy but makes it more appropriate for younger teen readers. I still enjoyed it though. The characters are self aware and complex. They’re flawed. Jin Lo tricks the man she loves into drinking a potion that will make him agree with her decisions. She knows it’s wrong to manipulate him—and she knows she doesn’t have time for argument and that her plan is best. Benjamin is lousy at communicating and is drowning in his grief. Janie worries that he considers her a sidekick and wants to control her actions. It all works out in the end though.
The After-Room actually came out in 2015, but it was mentioned specifically for Event 39, so I felt obligated to read it even if it’s not a super new book like most of the others. It’s not like I make the rules or anything. (I do, actually).
I’m looking forward to reading Do Not Become Alarmed, which also appeared in the Writers Fest program.
Maile Meloy was at Events 39 (Potions, Ghosts and UFOs), 71 (Plentiful Portraits) and 84 (Getting a Grip) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.