A scrawny 12-year-old orphan named Eel changes history when he helps famous epidemiologist Dr. John Snow identify the source of a cholera outbreak in the streets of 1854 London.
It’s a vile summer in the city: “hot in a thick, wet sort of way, as if the sun were a giant who’d aimed his moist, stinky breath on us all.” Chillingly, the Broad Street pump, popular for its cleaner-tasting water, is dispensing cholera with every push of the handle. The Broad Street pump story is a true one, and Hopkinson methodically chronicles the role of Dr. Snow in linking the “blue death” to London’s water supply. It’s impossible not to like the fictional Eel, who tells the tale in journal form from a first-person point of view, with a convincingly childcentric focus on lovable pets, lemon ice, trust and justice. Eel is a hard-edged softie who rescues drowning cats, tends to Dr. Snow’s test animals, hides his little brother from their malevolent stepfather at great personal cost and ultimately helps solve the cholera mystery. Rough types such as Thumbless Jake and Nasty Ned pop up like cartoon villains, but Eel proves too slippery for them, and plenty of best-of-times goodness shines from the murk.
A solid, somber dramatization of a real-life medical mystery. (epilogue, author’s note, timeline, bibliography, acknowledgments) (Historical fiction. 9-12)