Tuesday, September 4, 2012


By Julie Chibbaro
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011. 293 pgs. Young Adult

Prudence Galewski has long been interested in how death and disease happen--what make the human body fail. Although most girls are interested in marriage and family, Prudence doesn't want to settle down; she wants to use her brain to delve into the world of science. When she's offered a job taking notes for Mr. Soper, who works for the Department of Health and Sanitation, she's excited to have found an opportunity that lets her do just that. An outbreak of typhoid fever leads Mr. Soper and Prudence to investigate how the disease has spread, and they find themselves facing a possibility considered only rarely before: that a healthy person could be the carrier for a disease that proves deadly in others. Although they suspect Mary Mallon of being a carrier of typhoid, she and many others find it impossible to believe that a healthy person could reasonably be believed to spread a disease to others, and Prudence finds herself torn between her scientific mind, which wants to find and stop the disease, and her heart, which aches for Mary and the treatment she receives when suspected of being a typhoid carrier.

This is a highly engaging piece of historical fiction. Chibbaro has done a fantastic job showing the scientific ideas and limitations of the early 1900s, and especially demonstrating why "Typhoid Mary" would find it hard to believe she could possibly be making others sick and would keep spreading the disease. She also does a great job showing Prudence's struggle to find her place in the world and figure out what she wants, even at a time when options for women were still extremely limited. Very well written.


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