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

 
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The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel
Age Range
10+
Release Date
September 10, 2013
ISBN
0375848185
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Eel has troubles of his own: As an orphan and a "mudlark," he spends his days in the filthy River Thames, searching for bits of things to sell. He's being hunted by Fisheye Bill Tyler, and a nastier man never walked the streets of London. And he's got a secret that costs him four precious shillings a week to keep safe. But even for Eel, things aren't so bad until that fateful August day in 1854—the day the Great Trouble begins. Mr. Griggs, the tailor, is the first to get sick, and soon it's clear that the deadly cholera—the "blue death"—has come to Broad Street. Everyone believes that cholera is spread through poisonous air. But one man, Dr. John Snow, has a different theory. As the epidemic surges, it's up to Eel and his best friend Florrie to gather evidence to prove Snow's theory before the entire neighborhood is wiped out. Part medical mystery, part survival story, and part Dickensian adventure, Deborah Hopkinson's The Great Trouble is a celebration of a fascinating pioneer in public health and a gripping novel about the 1854 London cholera epidemic. Backmatter includes an author's note, time line, and further reading suggestions.

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This well-researched novel is fascinating from start to finish. Ms. Hopkinson does an excellent job of bringing the setting of London circa 1854 to vivid life. From mudlarking on the Thames to the bustling community of Broad Street, London's poverty, filth, class system, and colorful cast of characters are brilliantly portrayed. Eel makes for an interesting narrator. Equal parts consummate survivor and compassionate do-gooder, Eel's adventures allow the reader to experience the various sides of London, a cholera epidemic up close, and the battle between superstition and science that was waged over this particular cholera epidemic. The narrative is smooth and fast-paced, the historical facts are solid and presented in such a compelling storyline that the reader is almost unaware of receiving a thorough history lesson, and the backmatter in the book gives additional historical detail, maps, and places to go for more information.

I highly recommend this to teachers, librarians, and home schoolers. I also highly recommend it to fans of historical coming of age stories or readers who enjoy the kind of novel that comes to vivid life inside their minds.
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Cholera Epidemic
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Eel used to spend much of his time as a mudlarker: wading the muddy water of the Thames River, scavenging coal, tin, copper, and rags to sell to various establishments in town. He is mudlarking less and less because he finds work at the Lion Brewery as well as other odds jobs in town, and he is making more money than usual, but not enough to keep his mysterious secret safe. Little does he know that he is about to get into great trouble, but his trouble is nothing compared to the great trouble that overtakes his town.
It is summer of 1855 in London. Thirteen-year-old Eel is constantly wary of Fisheye Bill Taylor, who is searching for him. Fisheye says that he wants back what rightfully belongs to him. But Eel is desperately trying to save enough money so he won’t have to contend with Fisheye any longer and can keep his secret safe. Thinking that he has securely hidden his savings, Eel’s stash is confiscated and presented to one of the owners of the Lion Brewery, who wrongfully accuses him of stealing from the establishment’s accounts. Eel needs someone to vouch for his integrity, so he asks if he can leave to talk with Mr. Griggs, the town tailor, for whom he has worked in his shop. Eel is overwhelmed when he finds that Mr. Griggs has been struck with the Blue Death, also known as cholera, and is dying. Worse than that, this disease is spreading quickly to other members of Mr. Griggs’s family as well as many others in town.
Eel eventually turns to another employer, Dr. Snow, who is known for his expertise with chloroform. Eel hopes that Dr. Snow can help the Griggs family. Instead, Dr. Snow bombards Eel with questions about how cholera has been affecting his town, and then explains that as much as he would like to help those who are affected by cholera, he cannot since there is no known cure for the infected person. However, he believes he can find the source of the disease, which he suspects is contaminated water taken from the Broad Street pump. Dr. Snow’s theory is contrary to the long-time belief that the cause of cholera is due to miasma, bad air. In order to convince the governance committee, who oversees the town, that the pump handle needs to be removed, Dr. Snow has to come up with evidence to backup his theory, and he only has a week to do it.
Dr. Snow turns to Eel for help since he is familiar with the townspeople and area. Making him an assistant, Eel’s job is to go house-to-house gathering data as to who died and from where each family got their water supply. While making his rounds, Eel runs into a boy who says that he’s been collecting Broad Street water and carting it over to another town. Eel wonders if this may be the evidence that Dr. Snow needs to convince the governance committee. He investigates the place where the water was sent and finds out that the people who drank from that water had died. Ecstatic with his new findings (on the day before the committee meeting), Eel makes his way to Dr. Snow’s place, only to be whisked away by none other than Fisheye Bill Taylor. Now kidnapped, Eel has no idea how he will escape to get the information to Dr. Snow before the meeting, let alone keep from spilling his secret to Fisheye.
Deborah Hopkinson, an acclaimed and multi-awarded author, has a unique gift for taking a small but vital tidbit of history and turning it into a story for young readers to understand and appreciate. In her newest book, THE GREAT TROUBLE, she creates a fictional character, Eel, who narrates the story about real people during a real event that changed the course of medical history. The final pages include a reader’s guide to the story, a timeline of the Broad Street Cholera Epidemic, and plenty of resources for further reading.
Originally posted on Kidsreads.com
Anita Lock, Book Reviewer
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