The Great Trouble: a Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel
Knopf, 2003 272 pgs
Eel, an urchin living on the streets of Victorian London and trying to scrape a living anyway he can, gets caught up in the sudden death of numerous folks in his neighborhood from "the Blue Death", otherwise known as cholera. Eel elicits the help of one of his employers Dr. John Snow, a physician/scientist who helped develop anesthesia. By using the scientific method, Dr. Snow iscolates the cause of the epidemic: the neighborhood pump. It is now up to the good doctor with Eel's help to prove it to the city, so the pump will be closed down and no one else will die. Eel and his best friend work tirelessly on a map tracing the streets of the neighborhood and where the disease has spread and Eel helps talk to people, getting information from them and warning them not to drink from the pump. Eel's best friend is stricken with the disease and he also fears for his brother, who lives in the neighborhood with a nasty caregiver. Finally, eel stumbles on a clue leading to a deceased consumer of the water who lives out of the neighborhood, proving Dr. Snow's theory. The investigation culminates with Eel's heroic dash to the health board to save the day, despite his lack of confidence and polish. Eel and his brother's fates are determined by book's end, along with the best friend's recovery, the findings of the cause, and the aftermath of the epidemic.
Part science, part historical Victorian England, part mystery, this book has it all. Hopkinson captures the setting of Victorian London and tells the story in Eel's voice believably. Modern day kids will be surprised at the living conditions of this time period and empathize with Eel as he eeks out a living independently and supports his younger brother with little education and no help. The mystery is in the process of localizing the epidemic and working with Eel to find proof that it came from the well, as well as finding how the germs got in the well in the first place. Hopkinson adds the science involved without getting too "teachy" and educates readers about the scientific method, the history of public health, and the spread of disease. With this past year's Ebola epidemic this is a relevant topic to today and translates to the present making history that much more relatable. Hopkinson uses some true historical figures in telling the story, explaining at the end who was real and who was fiction. This book is a great choice for historical fiction book reports, especially for the scientifically minded and will be enjoyed, particularly, by intelligent youths. The Great Trouble is appropriate for children reading above their grade level who would like a challenge.and love to learn. Factual information, as well as a time-line at the end of the volume will further flesh-out the story for readers and offer the real story behind the fiction.