Deadly by Julie Chibbaro

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Lynn: “Can a girl get a job fighting death,” asks 16-year-old Prudence Galewski in her diary.  It is 1906 and Prudence sees death everywhere in New York City, wonders how illness occurs and how it can be conquered.  Deadly (S&S/Atheneum 2011) is a riveting historical novel told in the diary entries of a young girl who takes a part-time job with the health department.  Scientific-minded and serious, Prudence is miserable at school where she is being trained in traditional women’s roles and finds her new job so fascinating that she quits school to take on more hours.  Her boss is investigating a mysterious outbreak of typhoid fever believing there is a link to the cook who worked for all the families involved.  Yet the cook, Mary Mallon, herself is healthy with no sign of the terrible disease.  Here the intensity of the book really picks up as Prudence is drawn deeply into the investigation.

Based on the true story of “Typhoid Mary,”  Prudence’s diary entries track the unfolding investigation, her own search for her place in the world and her growing attraction to her boss.  Chibbaro weaves information on the prevailing cultural and class beliefs, living conditions, the existing medical and scientific understandings and the repressive restrictions on women skillfully into the entries, putting the reader squarely in Prudence’s time and place.  The tension and scientific mystery are center stage though and propel the plot at speed.  An especially interesting element is the exploration of the issue of individual freedom versus public safety that plays out in this case – something that will really get teens talking.  This is a fascinating and unusual book.  Please take a careful look at that cover too – those aren’t leaves twining up the girl’s dress!

Cindy:  To give you an idea of what it is like to co-author a blog with Lynn, here’s a sample of a recent conversation as she burst into my office brimming with enthusiasm:

Lynn: Oh, Cindy, you MUST read this next…it’s a fascinating historical fiction.

Me: (eying my shelf of tempting arcs I already have cued up): Really?

Lynn:  Yes, it’s all about Typhoid Mary and investigating the spread of disease.”

Me: (rolling my eyes to myself. REALLY? Typhoid Mary?…does she see the shelf of tempting arcs awaiting my attention?) Um, okay. I’ll get to it soon. (Good title, it sounds deadly…but I kept that to myself. We are best friends, but we are both known to humor each other on occasion.)

I can’t help but be reminded of the time she grabbed a new arc and exclaimed, “OOOOHHH, I have to read this, the uncle likes to eat bugs!” I mean, really, she presents like a classy Talbot’s woman, but underneath lurks a weird 12-year-old boy mind.” Honestly. But, you know what? She is right about this book. Short engaging chapters, illustrated with “Prudence’s” scientific sketches of skulls, septic fields, body parts, microscopes, and other things she encounters in her work will draw in readers and by the time the mystery begins unfolding, they will be as hooked as I was. Mary Mallon’s story is interesting on many fronts…as an Irish immigrant, as a perfectly “healthy” spreader of disease, as a woman whose freedom is lost for the good of the community at large. And Prudence. Her story will appeal to fans of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt 2009) as another example of a young girl fascinated by science and facing challenges to pursue that passion. The sexual harrassment she faces from male colleagues and her confusing feelings for her mentor add another layer for readers to dwell on. This plucky girl is not afraid to muck about in, well…whatever she must to track down the next clue. Perfect for teachers looking for intriguing historical fiction with connections to the science curriculum or municipal development…we might all say a word of thanks to our local sanitation experts that make our world so much more pleasant…and safer from disease.

Sarah’s Random Musing’s blog has a guest post by Chibbaro talking about the research behind this book. Simon & Schuster also has this creepy book trailer available on YouTube (but did they REALLY need to reference Vampires?)

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

2 Comments on "Deadly by Julie Chibbaro"

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  1. mary.clark@smusd.org' Mary says:

    Oh, you MADE a student’s day here! She loves historical fiction, and just shared with me her love of forensics. We talked about how she wants to be a doctor or a forensic detective when she grows up (this is why I love middle school–it’s not all firefighter, firefighter, Marine like elementary school!)

    I had $12.00 in book money burning a hole in my pocket. Now a copy of Deadly will be in Kaitlyn’s hands by Wednesday! Thanks for the heads up!

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