The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel

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This middle grade novel takes one into the London slums during the cholera epidemic. Called the “blue death” because a victim’s skin turned blue from respiratory failure, cholera swept through Broad Street in Soho during the fall of 1854. Dr. John Snow suspected contaminated water, but colleagues were unconvinced until his interviews with affected families traced deaths to a common water pump. This is the background to Hopkinson’s story. She brings the world alive through Eel, a “mudlark”.

Since his parents’ deaths, Eel has lived hand to mouth, doing assorted jobs. I’m afraid to give plot points away, but let’s just say Eel is evading a Fagin-like character called Fisheye Bill while protecting someone else from him, too. Eel earns money by feeding Dr. Snow’s menagerie and sweeping out a pub. Falsely accused of theft by a jealous co-worker, Eel flees the pub and returns to river-scavenging to bring in money. In the story, it is Eel who tells Snow about friends dying on Broad Street. And Eel makes the crucial connection that helps the doctor prove his point. A kidnapping keeps suspense high, and the reader’s guide afterward is rich with information to spur further interest.


Reviewed By:

Author Deborah Hopkinson
Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 256 pages
Publisher Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publish Date 2013-Sep-10
ISBN 9780375848186
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue February 2014
Category Mystery, Crime & Thriller
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