Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
February 22nd, 2011
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?
Prudence is determined to find out. In a time when science is for men, she’ll have to prove to the city, and to herself, that she can help solve one of the greatest medical mysteries of the twentieth century.
Deadly features a thing I adore- a female scientist who is driven by her curiosity about the world rather than some need to be loved, or ancient prophecy, or whatever. In this case, she’s also Jewish, poor, and has a father who is MIA from the Cuban war.
If that weren’t enough to bring me along for the ride, there’s also the question of friendships as we grow up, the sacrifices inherent in following dreams, the necessity for balance in life, unrequited love, unwanted advances, and no ‘evil’ characters.
I really loved Prudence and her cold, analytical curiosity. She became, somewhat ironically, the point of compassion with regard to Mary Mallon, Typhoid Mary of the early 1900s. Like the author, I always envisioned Mary Mallon as a dirty, lazy cook who spread disease through negligence. To learn that she was, in her own right, extraordinary and pretty starched was startling. I guess I, too, don’t understand what it is to be a healthy carrier of a deadly disease.
The ending is open-ended (more for Prudence than Mary, as the author’s note addresses what became of poor Mary). But I tend to favor that, especially considering the protagonist is at the beginning her adulthood, and what promises to be an amazing journey as one of America’s first female research scientists.
In all, I recommend this for fans of historical fiction, science in the early 1900s, young adult novels, analytical female protagonists, and the kind of diversity that doesn’t seem like an afterthought for popularity.