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The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel Hardcover – September 10, 2013
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This would be a disturbing read for most elementary aged children and I would recommend it only for older middle schoolers. Many secondary characters die in pain as the Cholera epidemic spreads in London. There are many vicious characters waiting to take advantage of the children and violence lurks around every corner. For a deeper understanding of life in London at the time I would highly recommend The Ghost map by Steven Johnson for a wonderful explanation of the masses of workers who kept London 'clean'.
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
The book would rate five starts if not for a slow start and the plodding nature of the text before we finally get to the heart of the story when Cholera breaks out. Hopkinson's intent may have been to humanize the victims by letting the reader get to know them but the story drags in these pages. However, if you persist and read on it takes off running once Jon Snow enters the picture.
Eel is hired by Dr. John Snow to help interview the residents, often crammed several families to a house, as he had a few years of schooling before being orphaned and fleeing a miserable home. Snow's theory that cholera it not caused by breathing bad air, but instead, by drinking bad water, isn't widely accepted, but Eel comes to think that Dr. Snow is right, and goes to great pains to help him find evidence to support his claim. (There is also mention of Snow's experiments with the miracle gas chloroform.
Excellent historical fiction for middle school readers, and a book that could easily be used in a classroom setting. Suggest to budding scientists, and readers who like Julie Chibarro's wonderful historical fiction DEADLY, about typhoid Mary. Other books to feed the brains of those interested in diseases include Laurie Halse Anderson's FEVER, 1893, Jim Murphy's non-fiction books INVINCIBLE MICROBE and AN AMERICAN PLAGUE and Suzanne Jurmain's THE SECRET OF THE YELLOW DEATH.
Back on the streets, with a bad man from his past looking for him would seem like the worst thing that could happen. But Eel has a secret. This secret is costing him money each week that he does not have due to the boy that caused him to lose his job. His desperate attempt to make money forces him to make decisions that would terrify grown men, let alone a young boy.
With all of this going on, Eel goes to see a friend of his only to find the father of the family dying from “the blue death” which was cholera. The common theory is that this disease is spread by poisonous air, but Dr. Snow has a different theory. When he enlists Eel to help him investigate and support his theory.
Working against the clock amid the death knocking at almost every door in the neighborhood, Eel faces friends and foes to help the Doctor. This just might be the best thing that has ever happened to him.
This book was written for children 10 years and up. I am way past 10 and was thoroughly engrossed in this story. There was history, mystery, science, intrigue and relationships to wonder and worry about. The story is based on real people and the actual cholera epidemic in London.
I loved the way Hopkinson wrapped the true events in a great story that adds depth to the story to keep the reader’s interest high. As a bonus, at the end of the novel, she has biographical information on each of the characters that were based upon real people, including pictures of them. She also tells the reader about the books available for more information on the Broad Street cholera epidemic and the efforts of Dr. John Snow to stop the Blue Death from spreading.
I would recommend this book to adults and children that are interested in history and mysteries. It would be a great read-along for a classroom or with your child if it seems too long for him or her to read alone. The story will keep their interest.
If you don’t have any children to share this great book with, read it yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review