Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Mutant Mushroom Takeover

51862409. sx318 sy475 Short, Rachel Summer. The Mutant Mushroom Takeover
September 22nd 2020 by Simon & Schuster for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maggie and her brother Ezra are living with their grandmother in her trailer after their father has lost his job as a lab assistant at the Vitaccino corporation in town. He's taken a job as a park ranger at Yellowstone, and Maggie misses him. Her mother left at some indeterminate point in the past and is not much missed. Maggie wants to take a great picture and submit it to the Junior Naturalist Merit Award being offered by the corporation; she wants to win, and use this leverage to get her father his job back. She enlists her friend Nate to help. After seeing an odd moth and missing a picture, she hears that there are weird "ghost lights" out by Old Man Bell's house, so she and Nate sneak out one evening to look. Ezra runs into them, and he and a friend also go to see what's up. Instead of ghost lights, they find bioluminescent mushrooms that seem particularly suspicious, and they also have a run in with Old Man Bell. Unfortunately, the man collapses after finding them and threatening them with his dogs. Ezra calls for an ambulance and tries to help the man, who coughs weirdly glowing spores all over him. The squad comes, but it is too late. Maggie and her family go to the funeral, where Maggie finds out that the dogs all had to be put down because of weird growths that wouldn't heal. She's happy when she gets the award from the Vitaccino corporation, and the head of it, Lydia, hopes that she will present some of her findings to the board. Ezra's health is failing, and when he gets a job working out at Old Man Bell's, Maggie and Nate find that the other teens who are working there all seem to be weirdly infected with the same fungus--Ophiocordyceps, which is the fungus that can turn ants into zombies! Things get heated very quickly, especially since the local police don't believe Maggie because they are infected. Maggie contacts her father for help, since she has exhausted all other options, and the only information he can give her is that she might be able to fight the fungus with a bacteria. Luckily, she and Nate are indefatigable, have good research skills, and can stomach strong smells, but will they be able to save the day?
Strengths: This had whatever element that is present in Scooby-Doo that makes the franchise eternally popular; things look a little bad, but then end up being absolutely horrible, and of course, only the kids can save the day. I really appreciated that Nate and Maggie were perfectly ready to go to the authorities, even call the state CDC, and no one will believe them! At first, I thought "Oh, cool, bioluminscent fungus. Nice science tie-in," but then this took a turn towards Zindel's Rats where it just gets down and dirty! There's also some nice bits with Maggie's family situation; more #MGLit characters could be shown living with a grandparent, and there will be a lot of students dealing with economic instability over the next ten years, but none of this slows down the plot. Excellent, excellent job!
Weaknesses: The cover isn't great, and this might be one of those books that's a bit hard to describe, but once I got past the first chapter, this really sucked me in, and it just got better and better. Might take a bit of hand selling.
What I really think: While the fungus gets a bit fantastical, this would be a fabulous book for science teachers to use to tie in to studying fungus. It reminded me a bit of Martin's Hoax for Hire in that it was so exciting and surprising, and moved along so quickly. Perfect blend of action, grossness, and kid power. Who knew that bat guano (and super soakers) could save the day?

Ms. Yingling

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