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

Deborah Hopkinson. Knopf, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-375-84818-6
Set amid the 1854 London cholera outbreak, Hopkinson’s attention-grabbing story of Eel, an orphan who survives by combing the filthy banks of the Thames for anything he might sell, is a delightful combination of race-against-the-clock medical mystery and outwit-the-bad-guys adventure. Eel, a hardworking and bighearted kid with no shortage of crummy luck, is being hunted by a notoriously mean crook, who happens to be his stepfather. When the first cholera case hits, the town blames the polluted air, but Eel and his mentor, Dr. Snow, have a different theory—that it’s being spread through a local water pump—which they set out to prove before the death toll escalates further. Hopkinson (Titanic: Voices from the Disaster) adeptly recreates the crowded, infested streets of London, but it’s her distinct, layered characters and turbulent, yet believable plot that make this a captivating read. As the deadly disease worsens, Dr. Snow and Eel’s deadline looms, and Eel’s past closes in on him, readers will feel the same sense of urgency—and excitement—as the characters themselves. Ages 10–up. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/2013
Release date: 09/10/2013
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