There’s a lot packed into this short intermediate/middle grade novel from Louis Sachar. In 181 pages, Sachar creates a plausible biohazard mystery that is focused on a well-developed central character, tackles tough topics such as divorce, bullying, environmental issues, and Hobson’s Choice, having to choose between two bad options.
Chapter book, fiction, suspense, mystery, environment
Interest level: grades 4-7; Reading level: 5.0
4 out of 5 stars
Tamaya is a fifth grader at a private school in Pennsylvania. She is dealing with her parents’ divorce, and with the hard parts of moving from childhood into preadolescence. Tamaya isn’t allowed to walk home from school alone, but her older friend Marshall isn’t thrilled with her tagging along with him.
One day, Marshall takes a shortcut through the woods behind the school. He is trying to avoid a fight with the school bully, Chad. Tamaya is worried because they are not supposed to go into the woods, but she follows along. This detour sets into play a series of events that puts Tamaya, Marshall, and Chad in serious danger.
The kids stumble across fuzzy mud puddles in the woods. Strangely, even though it is getting colder and the trees are shedding their leaves, no leaves lie on top of the fuzzy mud. After Tamaya gets home that evening, she realizes that where some of the strange mud got on her hand, she has a tingling sensation and rash. When Chad is missing from school the next day, the story picks up tempo and pulls the reader into the intrigue and suspense that seems to surround the strange mud.
Fuzzy Mud features short chapters that alternate between Tamaya’s story and testimony from a U.S. Senate inquiry into a form of alternative energy called Biolene. The testimony portion of the novel may be slightly confusing to some young readers, but they should get the gist. Scientists, looking for a clean form of energy to power the planet, developed man-made microorganisms that can be burned as clean fuel. But is it safe?
What I really liked about Fuzzy Mud was that Sachar didn’t hold back in providing difficult topics or positions for his young readers to tackle. He presents the idea that science, even sometimes with the best intentions, can sometimes be bad for people or the environment, and lawmakers need to determine if some bad is okay for the greater good of society. Hobson’s Choice.
He also crafts multi-dimensional characters that are very real. Chad, the bully in the story, is
not a sympathetic character in the beginning, yet Sachar thrusts him into a role that shows his vulnerabilities. His victims have to decide whether they will help him at a time when he is showing his ugliest side. Again, Sachar puts his characters in difficult positions that require young readers to think about how they might react.
This book would be good for students who like suspense or mysteries, or who are interested in environmental issues. Its shorter length makes it appealing to a wide audience. The length and tough questions that readers encounter make this an optimal class read-aloud for 5th grade and up.
by Louis Sachar
Delacorte Press, 2015