Louis Sachar, best known for his series Sideways Stories From Wayside School and the award-winning novel Holes, is back at it with a riveting middle grade read that combines elements of science fiction, adventure, comedy, horror, and coming-of-age. Set on the campus of the prestigious Woodridge Academy, Fuzzy Mud is the story of how three ill-fated middle schoolers—responsible Tamaya Dhilwaddi, bullied Marshall Walsh, and defiant Chad Hilligas—stumble upon an environmental disaster in the dark woods behind their school. Filled with plenty of page-turning creepiness and pre-teen drama, Fuzzy Mud is sure to engage readers of many levels, likes, and ages. Here are five reasons how it does just that.
Sachar is a pro at crafting tales replete with plot twists, foreshadowing, and oodles of suspense. And he writes in a way that is never condescending; Sachar knows kids are smart and sleuth-y and enjoy being challenged with a book that needs some unraveling. Fuzzy Mud delivers all this and more, using flashbacks and flash-forwards (as well as various points-of-view) to provide readers with a well-rounded novel that has lots of momentum.
Main character and fifth grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi is your classic good kid. She cares about her grades, her manners, her friends, and her family—especially the happiness of her divorced parents. She wants to desperately do the right thing (and is perplexed by the sudden cool factor of misfits), which means, this fall, school and socializing have taken a turn for bewildering. Middle readers of all personality types will relate to Tamaya’s predicament. She’s earnest, self-conscious, and trying awkwardly to make her way through middle school while being both true to herself and likable to others. Fuzzy Mud‘s unlikely heroine of girl-next-door makes this selection accessible to all.
Antagonist and bully, Chad Hilligas, has it out for the smart-but-newly-sullen Marshall Walsh. Kicked out of numerous schools, and with a noisy past and voice that both awe and terrify, Hilligas plays an important role in Sachar’s new gem. What motivates bullies? How did they get to be so cruel? Why do they do and say mean things? Fuzzy Mud is one of the few books that answers these age-old questions, and actually gets readers to eventually understand, and even pity, Chad. A wonderful element to add to a book that could have just served up a mystery, but instead takes the time to get real, too.
Thankfully, to the cheering delight of kids everywhere, Sachar is not afraid to get gross. From the oozing descriptions of the hazardous “fuzzy mud,” to the horrific side effects it causes (namely angry rashes and oozing blisters and powdery piles of dead skin, and—oh, yes—eventual blindness!), this gory story leaves little to the imagination. Loaded with delightfully loathsome detail, Fuzzy Mud is all about what could really happen in hazardous circumstances. Sachar writes for children the way few adults do: honestly, explicitly, and knowing kids can not only take it, but enjoy it.
Fuzzy Mud isn’t just action and adventure; there are layers of lessons here. Messages about honesty, compassion, perseverance, and loyalty. Messages about good kids and bad kids and kids in between. There’s even some insight into how parents and administrators (those alien beings!) react and think and feel. But perhaps the biggest moral here is one of environmental concern. How are we treating the planet? And how can we be so sure that the things humankind creates are actually humane? Fuzzy Mud brings up lots of timely topics, in ways both entertaining and eloquent, that kids will want to, and should, discuss.
Is your young reader excited about Fuzzy Mud?