Monday, July 14, 2014

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

Eel is happy to have a job working at the Lion Tavern.  Before getting work and a place to live at the Lion, Eel was a "mudlark", someone who spent his days sifting through the muck and waste in London to find things worth selling.  But now, between his work at the tavern and the other side jobs he does he makes four shillings a week, just enough to keep his younger brother somewhere safe where he can go to school.  When Eel is accused of thieving he goes to get Mr. Griggs, a tailor who pays him to do some work, to vouch for him.  But when he gets to the tailor's house, he finds that Mr. Griggs sick with "The Blue Death", cholera.  Soon, dozens of people on Broad Street have died from cholera and many more are sick.  Eel goes to another employer, Dr. John Snow, to ask for help.  Everyone believes that cholera is spread by the bad air but Dr. Snow has a theory that the disease is spread through the water and he needs Eel's help to prove it.  This book is based on the real cholera outbreak in London in 1854 that killed 616 people in less than two weeks.  Dr. Snow was indeed instrumental in changing people's ideas about disease transmission and stopped the outbreak when he managed to get the handle removed from the Broad Street pump.  I'm not generally a historical fiction fan and I still think this will be too dry for most teens, but the disease and general ickiness of London at that time will help pull in more readers than usual.