Hopkinson, Deborah. The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel
September 10th 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor
In 1854, Eel is on his own. His father has died, as has his mother, and his stepfather is abusive. Eel has managed to hide his brother Henry from his stepfather, but he must work at several jobs in order to pay for his care. When he is accused of stealing money from Mr. Huggins, he hunts down Mr. Griggs to prove that he is working for several people, but Mr. Griggs is in the throes of cholera, and dies soon afterwards. Eel also tends animals for Dr. John Snow, and asks him for help with the sickness in the area. Dr. Snow, in turn, asks Eel to help him investigate by going door-to-door and figuring out when people got sick, and what their water supply was. Snow and Eel feel that the local pump is responsible, but no one believes them because the current thought is that disease is passed through bad air, and the water from the pump in question seems to taste okay. By diligently investigating, however, the two are able to get the pumped closed down and prevent even more deaths. Based on a real event.
Strengths: Like this author's Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906, this is one of the rare historical novels NOT about war that will be a fairly easy sell to students. Eel's ability to survive on his own, combined with the pressing need to find out what is causing people to die AND a little bit of gross description, makes this a compelling read. There is even a tiny bit of romance! The notes at the back about the real characters and events make this even more interesting. Liked this one a lot.
Weaknesses: Readers who are not familiar with the living conditions in London at this time may be a little confused at first. I've found that middle school students have never had exposure to Dickensian London, which is a real shame. Still, a short book talk before handing this to students will help a lot.