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The Great Trouble is a historical fiction novel set in 1854 London during the cholera epidemic. Back then, people didn’t really know what cholera was. They just knew that if someone got it, they most likely died within one or two days. The residents at Broad Street believed it was the bad air the surrounded their dirty part of the city. Eel is 11, working odd jobs and mud larking (digging in the dirty river for things to sell) to hide his brother from their stepfather at something like an orphanage for 4 pence a week.

Meanwhile, people are dying and one of Eel’s side jobs happens to be taking care of the menagerie of test animals that Dr. Snow keeps and test anesthesia on. While Dr. Snow is well known for his expertise, he is also studying the cholera epidemic and enlists Eel to be his research assistant. They are out to prove that the cholera bacterium (or poison as they called it at the time) comes from the Broadstreet Pump and not the dirty air. I love that Eel is taught the real scientific research process of collecting and analyzing data and finding important outliers and reasons behind them. Soon, Eel is mapping the city and interviewing residents while also hiding from Fisheye Bill (his abusive stepfather).

There’s a real sense of setting and London lower-class community here. The books moves like a suspenseful mystery with the drama of having acquaintances die off from the Cholera. Can Eel and Snow solve the mystery and prove it to the town board before all of Broadstreet’s residents are dead? This book is based on the true story of Dr. John Snow and his pioneering cholera research that took place near the real Broadstreet Pump in London 1854. It felt like Oliver Twist but more empowered with a dash of scientific reasoning.

Read-alike: Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse, Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson