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

Overview

“A delightful combination of race-against-the-clock medical mystery and outwit-the-bad-guys adventure.”Publishers Weekly, Starred
 
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...

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

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Overview

“A delightful combination of race-against-the-clock medical mystery and outwit-the-bad-guys adventure.”Publishers Weekly, Starred
 
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 deadly cholera (“blue death”) comes 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 Dr. Snow’s theory—before the entire neighborhood is wiped out.
 
“Hopkinson illuminates a pivotal chapter in the history of public health. . . . Accessible . . . and entertaining.” —School Library Journal, Starred
 
“For [readers] who love suspense, drama, and mystery.” —TIME for Kids

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 09/02/2013
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.)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, September 2, 2013:
"Hopkinson 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."

Starred Review, School Library Journal, October 2013:
"Although detailing a dire period in history, Eel tells his story in a matter-of-fact and accessible manner, making his story palatable and entertaining."

Children's Literature - Elizabeth Leis-Newman
Eel is a whip-smart orphan and "mudlarker" in 1854 London, who is working at collecting scraps and working odd jobs, including cleaning the animal cages for John Snow, a famous physician. When "the Blue Death," a.k.a. cholera, hits his neighborhood, killing everyone from a six-month-old baby to the local tailor, Eel and Snow set out to prove that the cause of cholera is coming from the Broad Street pump. Hopkinson expertly intersperses lessons in scientific method—Snow helps Eel come up with the Who, What, When, and Where around the epidemic—along with character development. Eel is hustling to keep his younger brother out of the paws of an evil stepfather, and Snow is balancing a variety of commitments, including introducing chloroform to London's elite. While there's no attempt to mitigate the horror of cholera—Eel sees one person in agony as they die, and most characters who fall ill later die—the tone feels appropriate for a middle-grade reader. By the end, thanks to a map, interviews, and detective legwork, the Broad Street pump is closed. A year later, it is discovered that contaminated waste from a cesspool was leaking into the water supply. Eel is fictitious, but John Snow and other characters are not, and smart additions to the book include brief bios at the end, as well as cholera in the world today. Librarians and teachers would be well-served to add this to their collections and to link it to Haiti's current cholera epidemic or other examples of public health. While first and foremost a good story, it is an excellent example of historical fiction with a solid grounding in epidemiology. It is highly recommended. Reviewer: Elizabeth Leis-Newman
Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
A scrawny 12-year-old orphan named Eel changes history when he helps famous epidemiologist Dr. John Snow identify the source of a cholera outbreak in the streets of 1854 London. It's a vile summer in the city: "hot in a thick, wet sort of way, as if the sun were a giant who'd aimed his moist, stinky breath on us all." Chillingly, the Broad Street pump, popular for its cleaner-tasting water, is dispensing cholera with every push of the handle. The Broad Street pump story is a true one, and Hopkinson methodically chronicles the role of Dr. Snow in linking the "blue death" to London's water supply. It's impossible not to like the fictional Eel, who tells the tale in journal form from a first-person point of view, with a convincingly childcentric focus on lovable pets, lemon ice, trust and justice. Eel is a hard-edged softie who rescues drowning cats, tends to Dr. Snow's test animals, hides his little brother from their malevolent stepfather at great personal cost and ultimately helps solve the cholera mystery. Rough types such as Thumbless Jake and Nasty Ned pop up like cartoon villains, but Eel proves too slippery for them, and plenty of best-of-times goodness shines from the murk. A solid, somber dramatization of a real-life medical mystery. (epilogue, author's note, timeline, bibliography, acknowledgments) (Historical fiction. 9-12)
School Library Journal
★ 10/01/2013
Gr 5–8—This story of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London is told through the eyes of a 13-year-old orphan. Among other jobs, Eel works as an errand boy at the Lion Brewery, cares for Dr. John Snow's animals, and moonlights as a "mudlark," scavenging the Thames for scraps of coal and other things to sell. Eel struggles to survive as he is falsely accused of stealing by his boss at the brewery, tries to stay clear of his evil stepfather, and watches his neighbors fall ill and die. In desperation, he turns to the only man he knows who can help: Dr. Snow. Weaving historical personages such as Dr. Snow and the Reverend Henry Whitehead with fictional characters, Hopkinson illuminates a pivotal chapter in the history of public health. Dr. Snow believed that cholera was spread by contaminated water, not by bad air or "miasma," which was the popular theory at the time. With the help of Eel and his friends, he convinces an emergency committee that the water from the Broad Street pump is responsible and has the handle removed, thereby curtailing the outbreak. Although detailing a dire period in history, Eel tells his story in a matter-of-fact and accessible manner, making his story palatable and entertaining.—Ragan O'Malley, Saint Ann's School, Brooklyn, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375848186
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 141,751
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Hopkinson

DEBORAH HOPKINSON has written more than 40 books for young readers. Her picture books include Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book; Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, an ALA-ALSC Notable Children's Book and a Junior Library Guild Selection; A Boy Called Dickens; and the ALA Notable Book Apples to Oregon. She is also the author of the middle-grade novel Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906. Visit her at DeborahHopkinson.com.

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