Hooper, Mary. At the Sign of the Sugared Plum. Bloomsbury, 2003. ISBN 978-1582348490 pp. $
Mary Hooper’s At the Sign of the Sugared Plum takes the reader back in time to daily life in London, England, just as the Great Plague is taking hold of the city. The story follows Hannah and her sister Sarah, who run a candy, or sweetmeats, shop in London. The girls work hard making and selling their delicate, flowered candy treats. The church bells throughout the city start to ring fairly regularly as the plague penetrates the parishes of the city and those lost are mourned. Weekly, the death tolls are published and they steadily increase until they are as high as 8,000 per week taken by the plague.
Luckily, they befriend a local apothecary and his assistant Tom, who give them ideas on how to protect themselves from the disease. Hannah and Sarah see their candy sales plummet as more and more of their wealthy customers move to the countryside, away from the plague. Smart entrepreneurs, the girls start using ingredients believed to protect people from the plague and sell their goods as plague preventatives.
I like this book because it really describes the daily life of a working person in London in the 1660s. It demonstrates, through wonderful characterization, how common people learned about the plague and how they felt about it. It was horrible to see the carts of dead bodies driven through the city and the mass graves and the families put under house arrest when one person in the family has died from the plague. One of the hardest things for Sarah and Hannah to bear is when their cat, Mew, disappears because pets are being killed by the thousands for fear that they are spreading the deadly disease.