Random House, 2015 183 pgs.
Alternating points of view trace the captivity of a small Pennsylvania town by an ecological disaster. Fifth-grader, Tamaya, is use to being ignored by neighbor and walking companion, seventh-grader Marshall. The social rules are changing for her and friends are getting weird. Marshall, tired of constant bullying by class bad-boy Chad, drags Tamaya to a "shortcut" through the woods in order to avoid fighting with Chad. After getting lost Chad finds them anyway and trouble ensues. To defend them both Tamaya throws "fuzzy mud" she finds on the ground at the bully. Unbeknownst to them all, the mud is a mutation from a new energy source recently developed in a research facility in their town, whose cells are dividing rapidly. Tamaya returns home only to discover a terrible rash where her hands touched the mud. The next day reflects the progress of the rash worsening and Chad having disappeared. Tamaya returns to the woods to try to find him and Marshall faces an ethical decision: to try to rescue his torturer and risk punishment or do nothing and let Tamaya and Chad face danger alone. Eventually, Marshall also leaves the school grounds(both children leaving without telling anyone resulting in the school going into lock-down mode and all the adults panicking) and finds Tamaya and Chad in a nick of time. The three young people make it out of the woods and into the safety and comfort of the hospital. The disease begins to spread at an alarming rate and the entire town is quarantined until a cure can be found, which it is, although from an unlikely source. Senate hearing transcripts questioning the developer of Fuzzy Mud are interspersed throughout the book and each chapter ends with the mathematical equation of the mutation dividing, at first in small numbers and then getting out of control rather quickly.
Louis Sachar is a children's author who is consistently great, yet does not pigeonhole himself into a genre or style. If you are looking for the humor of the Wayside books or the layers of Holes you will not find it. Instead, expect a well conceived and written story for children reflecting the challenges of growing up and navigating school life within the backdrop of an ecological warning along the lines of Carl Hiassen, although without the humor. Fuzzy Mud is a nice length, reads quickly, and is not a series opener (thank you Louis Sachar!), making the book accessible to readers on many ability levels. Because of the alternating points of view, this book really is intended for both boys and girls. It will work on many levels and has lots of meat, making it a wonderful choice for book discussions. It would also be great for classroom use. Sachar has all three main characters (I'm including the bully) show growth in a believable and applaudable way. The book describes itself as a mystery-thriller. I think that is a bit extreme. Its not really a mystery and I think calling it a "thriller" is an exaggeration, although there is definitely a adventure element when the kids are lost in the woods and haziness about the reason behind the senate hearings, which is cleared up by the end. Fuzzy Mud is at its core a cautionary tale about the world's overpopulation and the need for alternative energies, as well as the dangers surrounding the development of man-made energies sources. Sachar also demonstrates the ancient riddle of doubling one thing (the old tale uses a grain of rice) every day, which seems innocent at first, but becomes a disturbingly large number rather quickly. Chapter beginnings show an increasing amount of dots, demonstrating this principal. Overall, Fuzzy Mud is a solid contribution to children's literature that can be used with a variety of children for both recreation and school settings.