Friday, April 15, 2011


Julie Chibarro's novel Deadly is an historical fiction YA novel about Typhoid Mary and it was awesome- as much as a novel about death and disease can be. It was also full of such interesting information about healthcare and science and medicine in the early 1900s. While I know I have heard the term "typhoid Mary" before I didn't know anything more than that. Somewhere in my brain I must have just decided that it was a bad storm. You know....typhoid/typhoon. Not impressive on my part. To make myself feel better (and thank goodness this didn't backfire which could have happened if my husband would have been able to answer this question correctly) I asked my husband what he knew about Typhoid Mary. He didn't know a thing about it, either, and in fact, asked me if it was a band. Apparently our knowledge of history - at least this topic- is lacking.

Prudence is sixteen years old, living with her mother, going to a finishing school. The studies in school - school of this kind, at least- don't interest Prudence who is craving knowledge about science. When she finds a job as an assistant to Mr. Soper in the health department she is ecstatic. Mr. Soper begins to research typhoid fever and the source of this disease which the two track to Mary Mallon , a cook for many different families. Each family she comes in contact with contracts typhoid despite the fact that Mallon herself is quite healthy. This idea- that a healthy pserson could carry a disease and infect others without getting sick themselves- is a new one, and Chibarro conveys the way in which scientists stretched their minds to adapt what they already knew to what they could see in front of them.

In addition to this being a great source of information about Typhoid Mary and the developments in science, Chibarro explores the idea of women in medicine. Prudence begins to formulate her own ideas about her future and is blessed with meeting a female doctor who encourages her. Prudence and her mother also learn to forge ahead with their lives after waiting for nine years for their father/husband to return from the Spanish American War, finally allowing themselves permission to move on.

I can see so many uses for this book aside from just enjoyment. Book clubs would find this novel fascinating. Deadly would make a great read aloud and is a wonderful springboard to researching diseases and Typhoid Mary, life in the early 1900s and healthcare at the time. I will be recommending this one to many - and for the record, I now know a great deal about Typhoid Mary and will never confuse it with a natural disaster.

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