At the Sign of the Sugared Plum
by Mary Hooper
Written in 2003, based in 1665
Mary Hooper is an English author who specializes in teen fiction and historical fiction. Hooper was born in Barnes, South West London in 1944. She left school at fifteen to work as a window dresser. Then becoming a secretary, she learned to type and started to write a short story. She returned to school as an adult and earned a degree in English from Reading University. Hooper began her writing career with short stories, publishing in women’s and teen magazines. Her first book, Jodie, was published in 1978. Since then, she has won the North East Teenage Book of the Year award for her story, Megan. Mary Hooper wrote At the Sign of the Sugared Plum in 2003, and it was chosen as one of the “Booked up” scheme books of the year in 2010.
At the Sign of The Sugared Plum is set in London in 1665. Hannah has been dreaming to live in London ever since she was a little girl. She is thrilled when she finally gets the chance to live with her sister, Sarah, and help her out in her sweetmeats shop in the city. But when Hannah arrives to the city, she is confused as to why her sister is horrified that she is there. Apparently, Hannah did not receive the message that Sarah sent to her to tell her to stay away because there have been causes of the plague reported. Hannah refuses to leave because she believes she will be fine, and she does not want to leave the city that she has always wanted to go to. She is blinded and fascinated by the elegant ladies and fashion, meeting an actress, and her new budding romance with Tom. She soon starts to realize the dangers of the plague as neighbors and friends become sick and die. Throughout this book, Hannah and Sarah do their best to survive the plague, despite the all too quick spreading of this deadly disease. With the help of the Beauchurches and Tom, Hannah and Sarah use Abby and Maria's identities to make a risky journey out of the city. In the end, they eventually travel safely out of London and escape this awful disease.
At the beginning of each chapter, Hooper wrote quotes as if Hannah was writing in a journal; these quotes had significance and added a depth to the book. One quote says “This day much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors and ‘Lord have mercy Upon us’ writ there…” (Hooper 44). Having “Lord have mercy Upon us” written on the door shows that these people turn to their religion to save them; it is the only hope they have left. Going along with this, the next quote is “Asking how the Plague goes, the Parish Clerk tells me that it increases much, and much in our Parish…” (Hooper 54). The Parish refers to the church, and the clerk is saying that the plague reached even them. So relying on their religion and God to save them was not working out because even the church was suffering from this horrible disease. The last quote is “But Lord, how everybody’s looks and discourse in the street is of Death and nothing else” (Hooper 68). In the beginning of the story, Hannah was so caught up with the looks and fashion of the people and how glamorous she thought everything was, but now none of that matters because everyone has the look of death. In conclusion, these quotes represent that everything that the people thought was important is no longer of any help to them.
Not only is this book fiction and entertaining, it also gives the readers a chance to learn because the facts about the plague are historically accurate. Of course, the main conflict of the story is the plague and how it affected London. This novel also includes details about Health Certificates, Sickness Preventatives, and other things that they actually did use during this time. Hooper makes it clear through the story about what happened to the sick, how quickly they died, what they did with the bodies, and all the events that really happened during the plague. She also includes details about the killing of cats and dogs which, once again, really did happen. Another thing from this story that is a historical reference is the Royal Exchange, which is a social gathering place. Hannah goes to the exchange with her friend Abby. She describes it as a “great blackened stone building, open in the center, with a gallery around each of its two floors” (Hooper 55). Small, candlelit shops line the galleries and all sorts of people go there to socialize. Along with these things, the preventatives and superstitions that are mentioned in the book were also real things that they did during this time. Some of these include carrying a piece of paper with the word “Abracadabra” written on it in the form of a triangle, carrying a lucky rabbit’s foot, holding a gold token in your mouth, and chewing herbs and plant steams and eating flowers. These are just a few examples of how Mary Hooper incorporated historical facts into her work but still made it entertaining.
Overall, At the Sign of the Sugared Plum is a book worth reading. Being written in 2003, Mary Hooper does an amazing job in portraying the characters as real 17th century people. She really captures the horrifying reality of the plague and the effects it had on everyone; she makes readers feel as if they were actually there. Not only historically pleasing, this book has modern day attractions as well. It incorporates action and romance, and Hooper gets readers attached to Hannah and Sarah and wanting to know what will happen to them. Whether readers are interested in learning about history or just want to read an entertaining, suspenseful book, At the Sign of the Sugared Plum by Mary Hooper has something in store for everyone.