I’m going to try to read all the books that are on the 2015-16 OBOB list with me and I’m so happy to start with a wonderful book by my friend and fellow Portlander, Deborah Hopkinson. This is a story after my heart because epidemiology was my mother’s field. It’s an account of how the enterprising Dr. Snow and a couple of street urchins proved that a cholera epidemic that a broke out in Victorian London was caused not by the heavily polluted air but by the contaminated water in the Broad Street pump.
Three things for a kid reader to love:
1. Any kid who lives Bones or CSI or other tv crime scene procedurals will love this. It’s full of real nitty gritty details of how to prove that disease is water-borne when the water tastes fine and the air stinks. Great fun, and not “teach-y”
2. Cool historical maps of the epidemic are in the back matter. Love Maps!
3. The narrator, a kid who goes by the name Eel, is appealing and keeps the events on a very human scale. In finding and answer to the riddle of the Broad Street pump, Eel finds a home and protection and education for his beloved little brother.
Something for the writer to think about:
Any story about an epidemic is going to be tragic and this one doesn’t shrink from death. However, and this is the important distinction to me, it doesn’t revel in death or glamorize suffering. It’s a fine line to walk and I think it’s handled beautifully. Well worth a read just to see how Deborah gets the balance just right.
Also I’m going to tag this as a diverse book in terms of class. It addresses very directly the injustices Eel faces because of his economic status. It’s easy to over-look or romanticize the poor. Here’s a book that in my opinion does them justice. The low-income characters are a mix of good and bad actors and the upper-income characters are an equally mixed bag in terms of personal virtue. Bravo!