I was intrigued by the subject of Deadly: How Do You Catch an Invisible Killer?, a new teen/YA novel by Julie Chibbaro. It’s about how scientists unraveled the mystery of so-called Typhoid Mary, a cook who unwittingly spread typhoid fever throughout the NYC area in the early 1900’s. In true historical fiction fashion, Chibbaro took this fascinating real-life event and wove an engaging fictional story around it.
Sixteen year-old Prudence is a turn-of-the-century young woman with big dreams. Though most of her peers are finishing charm school and hoping to be married soon, Prudence is interested in more meaningful things: science, writing, and having some sort of positive impact on the world. She’s seen her share of sorrow already, having lost both her father and her brother. When she gets a job as an assistant at the Department of Health and Sanitation, she feels like her dreams are finally coming true.
Her boss is working on an important case, trying to figure out what is causing an outbreak of typhoid fever in the area. They think they find a link between the affected homes, a young cook named Mary, but she has never had typhoid. How can they prove that Mary is contagious and spreading this disease without knowing it?
The science and history here are fascinating, but so is Prudence’s own coming-of-age story, as she struggles with her own personal challenges, including grief, in this journal-like novel told in her own words. I enjoyed it very much and would love to read another Chibbaro novel.
NOTE: There is nothing objectionable in this novel; it is appropriate for younger teens or preteens.
Where in the World Are You Reading? update: this novel takes place in NYC.