The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson Book Review

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson

In 1854, The Great Trouble comes to Broad Street in London. Cholera. It sweeps through the neighborhood so quickly that the coffin maker has no time to make coffins. Thirteen-year-old Eel has lost his full-time job after being accused of stealing. Those who would vouch for him have fallen ill. As more and more of his neighbors fall ill, Eel goes to Doctor John Snow, who he works for by cleaning out animal cages. The Doctor has a theory concerning the transmission of cholera that no one will believe, that is it carried in water and not bad air. The culprit? The Broad Street pump. Together the Doctor and Eel set about to discover the cause of the cholera outbreak and to prove Dr. Snow's theory right.

Based on true events, The Great Trouble was a rather delightful historical fiction novel. Full of adventure, characters who were both fictional and non-fictional, and a real flavor for the London culture in 1854, Hopkinson does a good job of fictionalizing a real life event. Although the timeline is a bit compressed for the story to keep the pacing and action going, the author includes a great deal of historical fact at the end of the book with a real timeline as opposed to the fictional one. John Snow was a real physician known as one of the fathers of modern epidemiology and he was integral to the study and understanding of cholera. Eel himself is quick-witted although very much a boy of his time who knows his place, not wanting to walk into Dr. Snow's library for example for fear of tracking mud through the house.

The ending, or at least the ending for Eel felt a little too much 'Happily Ever After', but considering this a story meant for elementary and young middle schoolers, it made sense not to leave Eel and his little brother out in the cold. There may have been a way to tell the story that didn't feel so Dickensian, but then, perhaps that was the intent.

All in all, a great historical novel on a subject that isn't often illuminated upon with a ton of historical data in the back similar to that of the American Girl series.