The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson Purchase:

    An intriguing and credible microcosm of fiction and fact: fast-paced adventure, mystery, edge-of-seat drama, and fascinating medical history.

    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 Great Trouble begins. Mr. Griggs, the tailor, is the first to get sick, and soon it’s clear that the deadly cholera – the “blue death” – has come 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 Snow’s theory before the entire neighborhood is wiped out.

    Part medical mystery, part survival story, and part Dickensian adventure, Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble is a celebration of a fascinating pioneer in public health and a gripping novel about the 1854 London cholera epidemic.

    Review by M. V. Lyons:

    Deborah Hopkinson
    Deborah Hopkinson

    Thirteen-year-old Eel is a mudlark in Victorian London. Mudlarks were orphans who rummaged in the filthy mud of the Thames River for objects they could sell for a few coins to keep themselves alive from day to day. Deborah Hopkinson knows how to write a page-turning adventure story with characters you can believe in and a young hero who touches your heart.

    And she knows how to weave historical fact into her tale to enrich it and make the world she is portraying come alive. She shows the misery of the working poor in a filthy, unforgiving Victorian London, and Eel’s struggle to stay alive, but she doesn’t overburden young readers with so many heartrending details that they might stop reading.

    Eel tells his fast-paced story in a matter-of-fact voice that describes the awful living conditions of the poor without making the book too somber to read and without dampening the excitement of his adventurous and often dangerous life. And every chapter has a cliffhanger ending. You find yourself quickly warming to the empathetic mudlark hero and cheering him on when he faces a new difficulty.

    Eel has run away from his cruel stepfather. He is resourceful and earns small amounts of money by doing whatever he can including working at a brewery, filtering river mud, and taking care of Dr. John Snow’s laboratory animals. He needs the money, not just to keep himself alive but also because of a heartrending secret that that he must keep at all costs.

    Dr. Snow is one of the real-life characters seamlessly woven into the story. During the 1854 cholera outbreak in London, John Snow discovered that water was the carrier of the cholera bacteria. His study of the cause and effect of the cholera epidemic laid the foundation for the science of epidemiology.

    Eel’s intelligence impresses Dr. Snow, who asks the boy to help him investigate the cause of the cholera epidemic. And from that point on, Eel’s life changes dramatically.

    The Great Trouble is a great read for older middle-graders (ages ten and up). My one small criticism is that Eel is sometimes given vocabulary that sounds too sophisticated for a thirteen-year-old with little schooling. But the story’s depth and momentum swept aside that concern and drew me into its intriguing and credible microcosm of fiction and fact: fast-paced adventure, mystery, edge-of-seat drama, and fascinating medical history. And I’m sure it will magnetize younger readers too.

    Review by Amazon Customer:

    The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson – reading The Ghost Map by Steve Johnson a number of years ago, I was astounded by the devastation of the cholera epidemic and the research that went into writing that fascinating nonfiction book.

    Reading The Great Trouble a number of years later brought me right back to that time, location, and intriguing situation as a doctor worked hard to prove to others that he was correct about a water pump passing around the cholera epidemic. What I appreciated about this book was the same thing I appreciated about Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, the trial and situation the characters were in was brought to life through personality and care.

    I loved reading about Eel, the main character. He came to life for me with his story of trial and heartache as he shared why he worked so hard every day and how he had a huge secret he was hiding from almost everyone, beyond hiding from a dangerous man who was hunting him down.

    I loved how his story naturally integrated into the cholera epidemic, how he was able to interest Dr. Snow with his communication and determination and how he turned out to be a great detective in the research to help save his community and people. I highly recommend this book to students and adults who can handle death (over 600 people died, part of the history) and who love mystery, science, and animals. The time period was revealed through the eyes of an innocent, caring boy who just