The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel
By Deborah Hopkinson
Published 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Eel is a mudlark, spending his days searching the river for bits he can sell or money that's gotten lost. But Eel's luck is about to change - cholera, or "the blue death," has come to his neighborhood. Now it's up to Eel and Dr. Snow to solve the mystery of cholera before everyone Eel cares about becomes sick.
I like a good historical fiction so I picked this one up. Having read an adult non-fiction account of the cholera epidemic in London (The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson), I was already familiar with the subject and how the outbreak was handled. Perhaps this ruined the suspense of the book for me, as I already knew that Dr. Snow's theory was the correct one. It might have been a more exciting read if I hadn't come to the book with that knowledge.
Eel himself is an interesting character, though it feels like Hopkinson tried to do a bit too much with him. I like the idea of a down-on-his-luck orphan being enlisted by a doctor to help prove his theory, but I think the story would have worked just as well if Eel had been an ordinary kid. I felt like I didn't really care terribly much about Eel's story - his escape from his rotten stepfather and his attempts to keep his younger brother safe. Instead, I was only interested in how he was able to help Dr. Snow. I think the idea of showing kids that they can make scientific discoveries as well is the more exciting part of the story.
However, my main issue with this book is one of appeal. I feel already that there is a lot of historical fiction being published for kids but I'm not sure how many kids are actually interested in reading it. With this book particularly, I struggle to imagine the kind of reader who would pick this book up on their own. Maybe I just don't personally know the right kind of reader for this book - after all, it does have a pretty cool mystery and it's about a really gross illness, so maybe it does have kid appeal.