Rummanah Aasi
 Have you heard of Typhoid Mary? Did you think it a woman who carried the disease with her and purposely transferred and killed many people? I did but after reading Julie Chibbaro's Deadly I realized that I didn't know Mary's story at all. 

Description: Sixteen-year-old Prudence Galewski takes a job in the early 1900s as assistant to the head epidemiologist at New York's Department of Health and Sanitation, who is trying to discover how a seemingly healthy woman can be spreading typhoid fever.

Review: Deadly is an absorbing read that weaves historical fiction, coming of age, and medical mystery seamlessly together. The year is 1906 and our heroine and narrator, Prudence is 16 years old and in her final year at a school for girls where cultivating the skills and charms are considered classes and instead of a degree with your name on it, you get a financially secure husband as a reward for your completion. The school does, however, allow senior students to seek part-time secretarial work.
  Unlike most of her classmates, Prudence isn't interested in being a "lady" and desires more for her life. Prudence is an outsider in more ways than one. She's always been scientifically curious, particularly regarding the nature of infection and disease. She's seen way too much ugliness growing up among the impoverished tenements of New York City and assisting her midwife mother. She finds the typical lifestyle of a woman of her time to be confining and boring. Instead of seeking comfort, Prudence wants to make a difference and have a purposeful life. When she lands a position as assistant to an epidemiologist working for the Department of Health and Sanitation, she believes she has gotten the opportunity of a lifetime. She quits school completely to help investigate the microbial mystery of Mary Mallon, an immigrant cook and suspected "healthy carrier" of typhus.
  Deadly is entirely composed of Prudence's diary entries. Instead of a just being a record of what she did or the people that she interacts, they are deeply personal and insightful as Prudence pours out her insecurities and doubts on paper. As a female working in a "man's job" she is faced with discrimination, from men and women alike, and at times harassment, but Prudence stays strong and pushes forward in order to pursue her dreams.
  The diary entries are pretty short and the pacing speeds up quite nicely when we the investigation surrounding an outbreak of typhoid begins. All outbreaks seem to stem from Mary Mallon, a poor Irish immigrant who works as a cook. Mary seems to carry the typhoid disease yet has never been sick herself. She adamantly denies she's been unwittingly infecting a series of employers' families and instead insists she's the victim of anti-Irish discrimination. As Prudence delves into the investigation, she is torn between her medical rationality and her compassion for the woman's untenable situation. It was interesting to watch the struggle between rational science and popular opinion as shaped by a sensational, reactionary press. By the way, it was the press who dubbed Mary Mallon as Typhoid Mary and started the urban legend.
 Prudence may be ahead of her time, but I think she fits just nicely in ours. I would definitely recommend Deadly to readers who are interested in a great historical fiction story, curious about science or likes TV shows such as CSI.

Curriculum Connection: Science and Social Studies
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper, Fleshmarket by Nicola Morgan
10 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    I agree Rummanah! Prudence definitely fits nicely in our time, I was proud of her:) I wish would have gotten more about the outcome of the Typhoid Mary case in the story instead of just in the author's note, but I thought this one was really interesting. I was utterly convinced I had typhoid after reading though. No good.

  2. I remember seeing this one on Jenny's blog so I'm pretty sure I have it on my wishlist. I'll double check though since I love historical fiction when it's done well.

    Sometimes I think about how awesome it would be to live in older times (especially because of the guys). But aside from not having indoor plumbing, I think having to be all ladylike would get boring fast. I like that Prudence is interested in science and wants to make a difference.

  3. This has been on my TBR for a long while. I just need to get to it. Thanks for the push....

  4. Does this book have another cover, or am I thinking of something different?

    I'm not usually one for Science or historicals, but Prudence seems like a character I'd really like.

  5. @Jenny: I wished that too. I was appalled how the doctors handled the situation. I felt sorry for Mary.

    @Z: Me too! I would find this time period super confining. I was proud of Prudence and cheered her on.

    @Annette: I've heard of the book for sometime, but I was glad that the blog tour pushed me to read it. It's a hidden gem.

    @Missie: The cover is from the paperback edition, which I think is much more appealing than the hardcover one.

  6. I had heard of Typhoid Mary, but I didn't actually know who or what it was. I mean, I know typhoid fever and all, but not the whole back story. That is really interesting. Did Mary, in fact start it? I mean, it sounds like the press blamed her because of her Irish decent, but did she actually start it?

  7. Oh I may have to read this one. I do like a good historical fiction. I may or may not like the medical part. I'm picky about my crime shows, but I do love science. I have a feeling that since you liked it, I think I will as well.

  8. @Jen: She did carry the disease and the fever spread where she worked, but she wasn't solely responsible.

    @Melissa: It wasn't too science-heavy. I did think comparing our modern science to the past really interesting though. Give it a shot.

  9. This sounds great! I actually looked up who Typhoid Mary was b/c I had a cough and my mom called me that. She didn't know the origins, so I thought I'd heard it so many times, I should look it up. I think I'll have to read this one. I find it incredible that Mary never got the disease herself, but was a carrier and infected so many. I'll put it on my TBR. Great review Rummanah!


  10. Lauren M Says:

    Ooh, did this one get a new cover? I remember the striking yellow one (though I love the ominous feel that the purple one gives off!). Anyway, Deadly sounds like a great book! I love historical fiction. Thanks for the review! :)

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