Book Review – At the Sign Of the Sugared Plum by Mary Hooper
‘You be going to live in the city, Hannah?’ Farmer Price asked, pushing his battered hat up over his forehead. ‘Wouldn”t think you’d want to go there . . . Times like this, I would have thought your sister would try and keep you away.’
Hannah is oblivious to Farmer Price’s dark words, excited as she is about her first ever trip to London to help her sister in her shop ‘The Sugared Plum’, making sweetmeats for the gentry. Hannah does not however get the reception she expected from her sister Sarah. Instead of giving Hannah a hearty welcome, Sarah is horrified that Hannah did not get her message to stay away – the Plague is taking hold of London.
Based on much research, Mary Hooper tellingly conveys how the atmosphere in London changes from a disbelief that the Plague is anything serious, to the full-blown horror of the death carts and being locked up – in effect to die – if your house is suspected of infection.
At the Sign Of the Sugared Plum by Mary Hooper is a YA historical fiction set during the 1665 Great Plague of London. The main characters – 15-year-old Hannah and her older sister Sarah – are trapped in London, and it is through their eyes that readers bear witness to the horror of Plague as the first whispers of illness quickly grew to become the terrifying outbreak of The Black Death (Bubonic plague) that overwhelmed London (and ultimately took more than 100,000 lives).
Ms Hooper does a great job with bringing Seventeenth-century London to life and obviously did her best to convey the historical details (period clothing, prevailing superstitions, medicine/herbs, etc including sweetmeat recipes!). Unfortunately, for a book tackling such an appalling event, in contrast, I found the two sisters’ story to be tepid and oddly dispassionate.
I felt that the author was so concerned about giving us the big picture about the Plague (with Hannah basically traipsing all over London to give readers a view of what’s happening in different areas) that she forgot to give us a good story involving the main characters. Too much telling, not enough showing. As a result, Hannah and Sarah never became real people to me, and they worked more like observers, there just to tell us what they see and hear about what’s happening to their friends and neighbors, but never really directly involved (a health scare didn’t really count for me). I ended up more interested in the plight of Hannah’s friend Abby, a lady’s maid who gets shut up in quarantine in a plague-infested house or even Hannah’s crush Tom, an apprentice in an apothecary treating the plague-infected.
Overall though, I do think that At the Sign Of the Sugared Plum works as a good educational resource (it was obviously well researched), helping bring history to life for young readers and history buffs.
At the Sign Of the Sugared Plum is followed by the sequel Petals in the Ashes (this time about the 1966 Great Fire in London). For those who want both books, The Fever and the Flame : A Special Omnibus Edition (of “At the Sign of the Sugared Plum” and “Petals in the Ashes”) is available on B&N.
For a second opinion – here’s some reviews of At the Sign Of the Sugared Plum by other bloggers:
- KidsReads – “Beautifully written, gripping and able to transport us into a London of 1665”
- Teen Lit Review – “This is another outstanding work of historical fiction, and I would encourage kids to read it”
- Eye Level Books – “This is a nice bit of historical fiction, capturing pretty vividly a significant period of European history.”