fiction favorites…The Great Trouble

the great trouble cover imageThe Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, by Deborah Hopkinson
published in 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf

“It’s like breathin’ soup,” Abel Cooper complained, same as he had every morning for a week. “Hot, stinkin’ soup.”

“Any errands for later, Mr. Cooper?” I asked the foreman as I mopped the brewery floor.

“In this heat? No, I’ll not send you out. There’s bad air out there. Poison,” he declared, wiping his forehead. “Bad air brings trouble.”
“What kind of trouble, sir?”
“Disease, lad. Since ancient times, folks have known cholera comes from the pump from debategraph dot orgthat bad air — what they call miasma — is the cause of disease..You name it: measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, and worst of all, the blue death…It’s obvious when you think on it, ain’t it? Bad smells cause bad things.”

Eel, age 12, is an orphan in 1854 London. Difficulties thick as the oozy muck on the riverbank seem to bog him down — mudlarking by the Thames to find the odd bit to sell, seeking secure wages from a better job so he can make his secretive payments on time, and avoiding at all costs the odious Fisheye Bill Tyler.

Lately he’s had a little string of luck. He’s found a good position and lodgings with Abel Cooper at the Lion Brewery, and

Dr. John Snow

Dr. John Snow

he’s taking care of a menagerie of animals for an important man, Dr. John Snow.

When a cholera epidemic  — the blue death — hits the neighborhood, though, things begin looking grim. Dr.  Snow seems to believe something other than the foul air is causing these deaths, but he needs Eel’s help to prove his newfangled theory. Will the two of them locate the data they need in time to save many more deaths, and can Eel outfox Fisheye Bill at the same time?

This Dickensian novel is a gripping, fascinating piece of historical-fiction! Eel and his good friend Florrie

The Broad Street pump in London, across from the John Snow Pub

The Broad Street pump in London, across from the John Snow Pub

steal our hearts as they struggle for survival in their impoverished, diasese-ridden neighborhood. There’s adventure here, and mystery, sorrow and kindness and community, and an intriguing peek at the real Dr. Snow, who is known as the father of epidemiology — the study of how and why diseases spread. A number of other real characters come to life in this book as well, and Deborah Hopkinson provides extensive notes about them, about cholera in general, and about the Broad Street Cholera Epidemic itself at the close of her story.

Excellent story told by a fantastic writer, for ages 10 and up.