Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent

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Flavored by the oddities of historic personalities and facts, Dr. Radway?s Sarsaparilla Resolvent is set in Bush Hill, Philadelphia, 1871?home to the Baldwin Locomotive Works and a massive, gothic prison. Acclaimed writer Beth Kephart captures the rhythms and smells of an extraordinary era as William Quinn and his Ma, Essie, grapple with life among terrible accidents, miraculous escapes, and shams masquerading as truth. 

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Flavored by the oddities of historic personalities and facts, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent is set in Bush Hill, Philadelphia, 1871—home to the Baldwin Locomotive Works and a massive, gothic prison. Acclaimed writer Beth Kephart captures the rhythms and smells of an extraordinary era as William Quinn and his Ma, Essie, grapple with life among terrible accidents, miraculous escapes, and shams masquerading as truth. 

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews
Kephart has crafted a deeply satisfying tale that's richly evocative of its time and place. Playing masterfully with words, knitting them into new and deliciously expressive forms, Kephart's story is one of loss and then redemption. William Quinn is only 14. With his father in the Cherry Hill prison and his genially wayward older brother, Francis, recently beaten to death by a brutal policeman, his mother has ground herself into unbearable, paralyzing grief, and the boy has to find a way to save them both. He has help from many: Career, his cheerfully ambitious best friend; Pearl, a good-hearted prostitute; Molly, a neighbor child who's deeply smitten with Career; a wayward goat named Daisy; and the abiding memory of Francis. Gradually, William finds a way to make right some terrible wrongs that are only revealed at a perfectly measured pace. Stark, spare illustrations provide an effective counterpoint to the flowing, poetic language. Against the 1871 Philadelphia setting (five years before the related Dangerous Neighbors, 2010), a faultlessly depicted world of sound, energy and ample filth, the fully developed characters of William and Career are trapped in a bleakly hopeless situation. But they never fully give up hoping. Like the very best of historical fiction, this effort combines a timeless tale with a vividly recreated, fascinating world. An outstanding and ultimately life-affirming tale. (Historical fiction. 11 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780984042968
  • Publisher: Temple University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Pages: 198
  • Age range: 12 - 18 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

 Beth Kephart teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the award-winning author of fifteen books, including Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River (Temple) and Dangerous Neighbors.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted June 7, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Beth Kephart has billed Dr. Radway¿s Sarsaparilla Resolvent as a

    Beth Kephart has billed Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent as a prequel to her earlier book Dangerous Neighbors. I’d bill it as more a study in contrasts.

    DangerousNeighborsSo, where do I begin? Dr. Radway describes the energy of Philadelphia in the early 1870s, the energy of factories surrounding you wherever you are, pouring out its dirt and smoke, spewing its noise, the streets full of stray animals and unsavory people and the language of this book matches this sooty energy (a different feeling than I’m used to from Beth). It is about William and his family, a product of this industrial society, which wears you down and spits you out; where it’s a struggle to make ends meet.

    Dangerous Neighbors, on the other hand, has a more refined energy (and language)–that of Philadelphia in the midst of its tumultuous 1876 Centennial which drew millions of visitors, which seemed to take away the dirt and smoke and replace it with music and blue skies and prancing horses and soaring birds, although ever present Shantytown abuts the fairgrounds. The language of Dangerous Neighbors is the more refined, descriptive language that I’m used to in a Beth Kephart book and it totally matches the aura of the book.

    The former book describes William’s relationship with his older brother, Francis, who would mysteriously provide for his family (the father being in prison) and then with his mother after Francis’ murder at the hands of the police. How William feels helpless in trying to avenge his brother’s death. It describes William’s mother’s descent into depression at the loss of a favored son and her subsequent ascent when there is someone else to care for.

    The latter, describes the relationship between twins Anna (the older) and Katherine (the younger) who, in a seeming reversal of roles, looks after her older, more free spirited sister. It describes Katherine’s helplessness at the loss of her sister and her descent into depression and her subsequent rise. It describes their mother, immersed in her worldly causes, to the neglect of her children.

    Dr. Radway contrasts William’s life, scrounging for food, while living in the working class section of Philadelphia with Katherine’s upper class upbringing, having a maid (surrogate mother) in Jennie Bea, going on shopping sprees or to the opera.

    What both books do so well is describe one city, Philadelphia of the 1870s, although two different worlds. Both books delve into their main characters, William and Katherine, making them come alive. And both books use language as only Beth Kephart uses language.

    It was a luxury reading the books one after the other, because it highlights the contrasts that otherwise would have been hidden. So, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent and then Dangerous Neighbors. The one-two punch in books.

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