Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review - DEADLY

Deadly - Julie Chibbaro
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atheneum, Simon & Schuster

A mysterious outbreak of typhoid fever is sweeping New York.

Could the city’s future rest with its most unlikely scientist?

If Prudence Galewski is ever going to get out of Mrs. Browning’s esteemed School for Girls, she must demonstrate her refinement and charm by securing a job appropriate for a young lady. But Prudence isn’t like the other girls. She is fascinated by how the human body works and why it fails.

With a stroke of luck, she lands a position in a laboratory, where she is swept into an investigation of the fever bound to change medical history. Prudence quickly learns that an inquiry of this proportion is not confined to the lab. From ritzy mansions to shady bars and rundown tenements, she explores every potential cause of the disease. But there’s no answer in sight—until the volatile Mary Mallon emerges. Dubbed “Typhoid Mary” by the press, Mary is an Irish immigrant who has worked as a cook in every home the fever has ravaged. Strangely, though, she hasn’t been sick a day in her life. Is the accusation against her an act of discrimination? Or is she the first clue in a new scientific discovery?

At any one point in time, I have an appetite for chocolate truffles, pears, Feta cheese, and YA historical fiction novels. I never get enough historical fiction!
And Deadly certainly didn't disappoint. The setting (NY in the early 20th century) was brought to life by Julie's highly descriptive and thoroughly researched writing style. It seemed as though old New York was a character in itself. I pulled up pictures taken by Jacob Riis and others just to get a visual on the world of Prudence and her family and friends. Even the subject was unique and highly original. I cannot for the life of me think of another historical fiction book I've read that deals with stopping an epidemic. The historical context of Deadly centers around Prudence's work with the Department of Sanitation and their attempt to solve the mystery surrounding an outbreak of typhoid. This was certainly a highly researched, highly entertaining look into a chapter in American history often skipped over or missed altogether. My copy even included medical sketches and other information recorded by the character, which really added to the richness and authenticity of the story.
Even the most interesting historical fiction books often run the risk of sounding like fanciful textbooks. Each of the characters were real and sympathetic, and Julie especially does justice to the representation of 'Typhoid' Mary, a historical figure I'd always read about to be vindictive and harmful. She definitely created a complex, highly engaging story that had me reevaluating the history context and what I'd always assumed to be 'true.' And I guess that was the most memorable part of Deadly - what I got out of it. It's a book that literally came to life through its ability to transport me back in time. I definitely felt for Prudence, a girl who was, at the very least, ahead of her time, and it was fun to watch her grow in confidence and determination. You'll not want to miss Deadly, if you're even a modest fan of historical fiction. If you enjoy medical mysteries, or just like reading about strong, resolute girls who overcome obstacles, give this a try too!

Final Rating:
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