Sachar, Louis. Fuzzy Mud
4 August 2015, Delacorte Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Marshall and Tamaya Dhilwaddi walk to and from the exclusive Woodbridge Academy together, but never use the shortcut through the forbidden woods next to the school. Tamaya is there on a scholarship, which is somewhat difficult, since she wants to get the most out of her education and loves her school uniform instead of thinking that it is an imposition. Marshall's parents are fairly well-to-do, and he's decently smart. The two get along well enough, but aren't the best of friends. When Chad moves in, a lot of the girls think he's cute, but he's there because he was kicked out of other schools and takes an immediate dislike to Marshall. When he threatens to beat Marshall up on the way home, Marshall decides to avoid him the only way he knows how-- going through the woods. Tamaya follows him... and so does Chad. Tamaya has noticed that the mud in the woods is odd; fuzzy, warm, and not quite right. Still, it makes a handy weapon when Chad attacks, and she flings a handful of it in Chad's face, allowing her and Marshall to escape.
When she gets home, she notices that her hand tingles, and soon a rash goes from being red and slightly painful to spreading and causing her hand to bleed. This sets off a panic at the school, especially since Chad never made it home the day before. Tamaya runs away to rescue Chad, who has had even worse problems because of his contact. Marshall is there as well, and the three make it back to the school.
In between this action, we have testimony from Jonathan Fitzman, who has been operating the nearby Sunray Farms. He has created an alternative fuel, Biolene, that is comprised of ergonyms. The microorganisms reproduce at a very rapid rate and can be bonded with another substance and burned for fuel. The ergonyms die on contact with oxygen, so there's not chance that they can get loose in the environment and cause problems. But what about mutations? Is the "fuzzy mud" a byproduct of Biolene, and is it a continued threat to the population?
This fairly short volume moves quickly, alternating between the scientific aspects of the development and production of Biolene and its handling and impact, and the horrifying results of unplanned human contact with it. Sachar is a master of the back-and-forth narrative, pacing each chapter so that we desperately want to find out what happens next. There are some interesting twists, and I especially liked the origin of the anecdote! Hint: be kind to turtles!
The characters are easily distinguishable and likable, but a bit trite. Tamaya is a scholarship student, Chad is a bully and trouble maker because no one pays attention to him at home, and Marshall is so quiet that it's hard to get a feel for the character. This makes the book a bit less successful for me as a tale of friendship and bullying.
That's okay, though. There are plenty of tales of friendship and bullying, but few scientifically oriented tales for readers of Weyn's Empty, Werlin's Double Helix, and Bodeen's The Gardener. What makes this book interesting is the ethical concerns about genetic manipulation, and how scientists may or may not concern themselves enough with the possibility of deadly mutations. This fresh premise is what makes the book worth reading, and it's nice to see a new title from Sachar.