Wednesday, April 27, 2011

YA BOOK REVIEW: Deadly by Julie Chibbaro

Another book for the YA historical fiction challenge-2011. Head over to YA Bliss to see what the challenge is all about.

At some point during the course of your education, you surely heard about "Typhoid Mary." But chances are you didn’t hear very much. I remember learning that back at the turn of the century (that would be the twentieth century) there was a woman who infected a whole lot of people with typhoid fever because she was a healthy carrier of the disease. There was something vaguely sinister about the story, about Mary herself, but it wasn’t clear what. Was Mary doing it on purpose or was it just the ignorance of the times?

Did you ever want to learn more about Mary? Julie Chibbaro did. She researched the story of Mary Mallon, the Irish immigrant cook who, unfortunately, became Typhoid Mary. Chibbaro then gives us a glimpse of Mary through the eyes of an intelligent, sympathetic, young protagonist, Prudence Galewski.

Written as Prudence’s diary, Deadly, shows us a lonely sixteen-year-old girl, brimful of curiosity about science and disease. Prudence feels like an outsider at the finishing school where the other girls are interested only in clothes and gossip. They hope for jobs as salesgirls or typists. Prudence wants to do something about death and disease. Her older brother died from an infected wound and her father went off to war and never returned. So Prudence thinks a lot about death.

Providentially, the handwriting and typing skills she has acquired land her a job working for a chief in the city Department of Health and Sanitation—Mr. Soper. He appreciates her intelligence and diligence and tells her he doesn’t simply want a secretary. He wants an assistant. When he gets called out to investigate an outbreak of typhoid, Prudence goes along as an active team member. The clues they ferret out lead them to Mary Mallon.

Deadly is an interesting peek into the life of a working class girl in early 19th century New York. It does a nice job portraying the scientific and medical knowledge as well as the limitations of the knowledge of that time period. The diary format makes for a quick read and allows the reader intimate insight into Prudence’s feelings, which become increasingly complicated over the course of the novel. The diary format can distance the reader somewhat from the action, but the action in this book lends itself to this kind of analytical narration. The sympathetic characters and a desire to find out how the issues would be resolved kept me turning the pages avidly.

I came away from the novel with a much greater understanding of Mary Mallon, just as Prudence did.


  1. I don't really know much about Typhoid Mary so this one sounds interesting. Thanks for the review Susan :)

  2. I hadn't heard of Typhoid Mary but it sounds like an interesting story. And I do enjoy books written in diary format.

  3. I really enjoyed this book as well. Here is my review: