One of the things that interested me about The Antidote by Dr. Susan McCormick was it being promoted as a middle-grade fantasy novel aiming to promote learning in health-related fields. Fictional stories also wanting to teach children something important can get quite boring. However, The Antidote proved itself to be a different offering.
I was provided with a free digital ARC of The Antidote for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.
The main lead of The Antidote is a 12-year-old kid named Alex Revelstoke. Now, Alex has a special ability that allows him to see diseases. He’s aware of injuries, illnesses, or anything else that’s wrong with other people. While having such an ability in fiction isn’t anything new, I liked how McCormick described it and what Alex experienced when sensing ailments in other people. Having Superman‘s X-ray vision to get an eyeful of what goes on inside the human body would freak out adults, let alone a 12-year-old kid.
Alex doesn’t fully understand his powers, and it’s nice to see him develop through the story and have readers be invested in said development. I appreciated McCormick’s take on how Alex’s not capable of saving everyone in the world. While heroes try and do the right thing, the reality is they can’t aid every single individual.
Not only that, but the narrative also includes the centuries-spanning history of Alex’s heritage. He’s the last Revelstoke and his lineage has been fighting an ancient evil for a very long time. The timeline jumps between the past and the present, with the first chapter, titled ‘Black Death’, opening back in England, 1348.
Alex, as a character, has layers due to his kind personality, the dangerous mission he’s involved in, and his family’s backstory (complete with secrets). However, I do think the supporting cast could have been fleshed out more. But you can chalk that up to personal preference because I like it when everyone has something to do to assist the hero’s journey while having their own little character arcs. Maybe McCormick will do that if she decides to continue the current story as a series?
As for the health and medical content, the information is provided in a digestible manner and doesn’t feel out of place in the type of story being told, especially with Alex growing up in a household of doctors and medical professionals. I liked how McCormick described various symptoms. There’s an entire ‘Catalogue of Infectious Diseases’ for kids to read after they finish the main story.
I do feel McCormick has succeeded in her goal of offering an engrossing middle-grade story, complete with supernatural elements, that helps kids build an interest in the field of medicine and health. Parents and teachers can use certain moments in this book to dive deeper into each illness and its impact on humankind.
The primary themes in The Antidote are friendship and the age-old story of good vs evil. Alex befriends Valentine (a dog capable of sensing cancer) and a girl named Penelope, with both characters helping Alex grow into a stronger version of himself.
The main battle is between Alex and a dangerous supernatural being called ILL (someone who has been fighting the Revelstoke family throughout history). Switching between Alex and ILL’s perspectives helped with amping up the tension. Reading ILL’s thought process made for some enjoyably dark moments. ILL is not joking around. Having said that, McCormick does make sure to add in comedic scenes detailing Alex’s awkward life at school.
As someone with an academic background in human health, I would have loved reading The Antidote as a kid. If you have any young readers interested in the field of medicine and the paranormal, you should consider picking up The Antidote for them.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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