Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent

illus. by William Sulit. 198p. photos. Temple University Press. 2013. pap. $15.95. ISBN 978-0-9840429-6-8.
Gr 7 Up—A story set in 1871, during the height of Philadelphia's Industrial Age. Pa Quinn is locked up in Cherry Hill Prison, his son Francis was viciously murdered by a cop, and Essie Quinn's priceless wedding ring has been stolen. Her one surviving son, 14-year-old William, devotes his life to her care and attempts to avenge his brother's death. Kephart integrates her story of the Quinn family's hope for salvation with a celebration of the city's rich and multifaceted history. Remote aspects of the period, such as Max Schmitt's win at the Schuykill race and Radway's "miracle" cure, significantly affect the lives of the family. Though the tone of the novel is somber, the author frequently incorporates upbeat, poetic phrases to suggest that the Quinns' fate is far from hopeless. She conveys the desperate need for faith in novelties of this new age, particularly medicinal concoctions. Original news stories add an authentic touch to the book. Equally effective is the true account of the daring escape from the Eastern Penitentiary published in The Public Ledger on August 2, 1871. Oddly, not enough is revealed about Radway's resolvent, though readers might be intrigued to learn that it is now a kind of root beer. Sulit's occasional black-and-white illustrations seem a bit static yet support the overall mood of the book until its more uplifting end. The main characters develop into stronger, more self-sufficient individuals. Pair this novel with Kephart's Dangerous Neighbors (Egmont) and Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever, 1793 (S & S, both 2010) for other key events about Philadelphia's intriguing past.—Etta Anton, Yeshiva of Central Queens, NY

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