Title: deadly how do you catch an invisible killer?
Author: Julie Chibbaro
Specs: 287 pages, with additional Author’s Note on the historical events she studied to write this story.
Publishing Information: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon and Schuster), 2011, hardcover
Diverse Elements: Features a female Jewish protagonist who seeks out work in the sciences and medical field at a time when women were told to embroider things and prepare for marriage; also questions the persecution of minority groups in American culture; written by a Jewish female author.
Summary (in my own words): 16 year old Prudence Galewski knows she is not like other girls her age. She attends Mrs. Browning’s School for Girls in NYC, where she learns how to be a good hostess, typist, seamstress, etc., to help her secure a future job as a secretary. Prudence’s mother is a midwife, and as Prudence has assisted her mother on several births, she begins to feel drawn to the science community and is constantly questioning. Prudence not only had to deal with these feelings of difference but also with the loss of her best friend who has moved to Virginia, and the ongoing desire for her father to return home from Cuba where he went “Missing in Action” several years before. Prudence finds a job as a secretary (and leaves school!) in the newly developed Department of Health and Sanitation where she is expected to be more than a typist–she accompanies doctors, investigators, policemen, and scientists to track down the source of the typhoid fever infections spreading throughout the city and finds that she must answer more than scientific questions if she is to discover her purpose in this world and be true to herself.
What I Liked: The story is written in a diary format. We see Prudence’s perspective throughout. She presents many facts of the “Typhoid Mary” case and struggles to remain the impassive reporter while expressing her moral concern and inner processes quite adequately. This book would be perfect for teaching to 7th-9th grade classroom in a historical fiction unit. The pacing is neither too fast nor slow and helped me learn more about this period of American and scientific/medical history.
What I Didn’t Like: The pacing ^_^. While I understand this was written for a younger audience, it seemed a bit flat in places and didn’t delve deeply into more issues. For example, when Prudence is accosted in the laboratory by a male science fellow, she doesn’t explore very fully the societal constructs that made her employer question “What were you doing here by yourself, anyway, Prudence?” and instead finds herself falling in love with her employer and rescuer. I feel the author could have made such an obviously intelligent and progressive protagonist search for some deeper fight without compromising the book’s overall focus.
What I LOVED: The above paragraph notwithstanding, I do love how the author asks pointed questions about women’s place in society and shows Prudence both as a result of sexism as well as a pioneer against sexism. Also, Prudence finds herself asking difficult questions about the line between “public health and safety” and the rights of individuals, especially in persecuted minority groups. She is appalled by her employer’s bribing others to get results though she can understand that is is for the “right reasons.” She proves herself worthy of her position and determines to go to medical school. And though she feels romantic toward her employer, she also determines that he is never to know and that she must focus on her goal of becoming a doctor if she is to take herself seriously and help the world. And finally, the book clearly speaks to the need for integrity in journalism and news-reporting, something that we all should keep in mind when reading stuff on the internet and in print. It is great for learning about microaggression in our culture and becoming more sensitive to the plight of others instead of objectifying them and playing it off as “just an expression.”
Lines I Loved:
“I wish there was a school for girls like me, girls interested in the invisible, the biologic, the organic. When I say the word biologic to someone like Josephine, her eyes cross a little, and her mouth gapes, and I can hear her little brain rattling around in her skull like a smooth marble.”
“I feel angry at Marm. She was the one who taught me about the body and illness, she encouraged me to use my brain, she showed me how to pry into scientific matters, to be curious, always . . . Most offices hire girls as typists the same why they would buy a vase for flowers; doesn’t Marm want me to be smarter than that?”
“I spent the ride home abashed and fuming at myself, and at Mary, and at the confusion I felt again with this case. Mr. Soper had come straight out and called Mary a killer. Her words echoed in my ears–dirty Irish. Is that what Mr. Soper thinks of her?”
Note: I would recommend this to others, teach it, and would have DEVOURED it as a child. It didn’t win the Jewish National Book Award for nothing :).