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The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel
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The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  2,277 Ratings  ·  464 Reviews
“A delightful combination of race-against-the-clock medical mystery and outwit-the-bad-guys adventure.” Publishers Weekly, Starred
Eel has troubles of his own: As an orphan and a “mudlark,” he spends his days in the filthy River Thames, searching for bits of things to sell. He’s being hunted by Fisheye Bill Tyler, and a nastier man never walked the streets of London. An
Hardcover, 249 pages
Published September 10th 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 2013)
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The Literature Ladies Sure. This book is suitable for teens. The book suggests for an audience of ages 10 and up. Although, I feel as though there are better books out…moreSure. This book is suitable for teens. The book suggests for an audience of ages 10 and up. Although, I feel as though there are better books out there to read than this one. -FY(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Eliza Crewe
Aug 17, 2015 Eliza Crewe rated it liked it
Solidly good and about an interesting event in history that I knew nothing about. Very much a middle grade book.
Barb Middleton
Deborah Hopkinson knows how to pass on interesting historical facts. While I've read her nonfiction books, this is the first fiction book of hers that I've read and I'm not surprised that I found the story lacking a bit in character development, but full of great facts. Hopkinson presents an interesting study of how an epidemic spreads throughout a community as a medical professional, with the assistant of an orphan, studies patterns and causes in an effort to determine the origin of a disease.

May 04, 2014 Joan rated it liked it
Recommends it for: historical fiction assignments
This was pretty good. It is a great cover, for starters. This is an exciting part of medical history related by a "mudlark". The narrator does a fine job, except when the author decides that she should pay attention to the rather feeble story of the character. The personalities were well enough developed, but the dramatic kidnapping and rescue were both pretty damn dubious. Especially the way the narrator, Eel, bounces back from a severe beating to give vital testimony at the committee meeting. ...more
May 26, 2015 Anna rated it really liked it
Shelves: childrens
A very good fictionalized children's account of the Cholera epidemic detailed in the great adult non-fiction The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. A good introduction for children of living conditions of Victorian London, and the history of medicine Eel and Florrie are very engaging characters, I am not sure the side plot with Fisheye Bill was really necessary, but I guess it did add a bit of excitement. I was di ...more
Kat O'B
Wow! Just finished this book in one sitting! Historical fiction is not usually my favorite genre, nor do I really ever want to read anything about diseases...BUT...this story, based on a real cholera epidemic in 1854, is exciting and interesting. I love the main character, Eel, who seems authentic and through whose eyes the reader gets a real feeling for life on the streets of England for a poor boy. In fact, I cared about all of the characters, big and small, and felt the unfairness of the situ ...more
Cate Brooks
Learned all kinds of new stuff in this one and was surprised at how interesting I found the history of Cholera. As far as I could tell, it was almost exacting in the historical details - even many of the lead characters. It seemed just a few ticks away from being narrative NF.

This came across as such true and traditional "historical fiction" partly because it was clear that the story was more important than the characters or dialog. Aside from the tacked on "Fisheye Bill" piece, everything in th
This is exactly what I enjoy in historical fiction - great characters in a well-written story that transports me to that place in history and teaches me about very interesting things I did not know before. I didn't know much about cholera before reading this, but now I know much more! It was very interesting being there as Dr. John Snow, with the help of our fictional protagonist, proves that cholera is contracted (view spoiler) (Can it be a spoile ...more
Mar 21, 2016 Jeni rated it really liked it
This book is great for 4th-7th graders. I enjoyed the way the author told the story of the cholera epidemic that swept through a portion of London. A perfect example of historical fiction, taking liberties with characters to put them in the heart of the action so the audience can be connected to the story. Two things-first, I hated the introduction. The first chapter or so will be confusing for younger readers and I fear will make them put the book down before giving it a chance. And second, am ...more
Sep 14, 2015 Stephanie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2015
Eel is living on his own, trying to stay hidden from his evil stepfather. Eel’s brother is tucked away somewhere safe out of the dangerous hands of the man who is supposed to be watching over them now that their mother has passed. Although he is only 13, Eel spends his life on the streets and in the mud looking for coins and treasure. He'll do any odd job to help make some extra money to support his younger brother. When people in his favorite neighborhood start falling ill from “the blue death” ...more
Feb 15, 2017 Ibelin rated it liked it
Shelves: solid
Solid middle grade historical fiction. The historically-based cholera storyline is very interesting. The distracting side business of the main character's vague-riff-on-Oliver-Twist personal life... not so much? It could have been good but would have needed a lot more energy and quite a few more pages dedicated to it. This is an entertaining, super quick read, but make no mistake - this is first and foremost a book about history that has been mildly fictionalized.
Deborah Hopkinson has interwoven her story of Eel, a thirteen-year-old homeless boy, a “riverfinder”, on the true story of Dr. John Snow’s discovery in the mid 1800’s that cholera is a water-borne disease. It is a middle-grade book and the plot events happening to the young people in the story seems fanciful, yet I enjoyed it as it also told of this terrible time when most people thought the “blue death” came from air, the horrible miasma from unclean and close living, mostly in poorer areas of ...more
Jeff Harris
Jul 15, 2015 Jeff Harris rated it really liked it
This was quite a compelling historical fiction story, and it opened my eyes to a great many facts that I had never known before about important developments in epidemiology and medical science. it really contained some pretty weighty content and concepts that may be a bit tough for younger readers to tackle, but I found the story of Eel, his own personal troubles, and the much larger troubles that consumed much of London due to the cholera epidemic, to be fascinating. It's not the usual sort of ...more
Michal Strojek
Oct 19, 2016 Michal Strojek rated it really liked it
"The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel" is a historical fiction novel. A man, with the name of Eel is a poor person, which is being hunted down by his dad, Fisheye Bill, because he wants to make money off of his little brother, to beg. And the only way to find him is through him. Another conflict is that Chorea, the blue death, is spreading and everyone believes it is spreading through the air, but that might not be the case.
I liked the part that he tried
Feb 10, 2017 ? rated it it was amazing
Good Book
Oct 05, 2015 Kari rated it really liked it
A very interesting historical fiction account of the discovery that cholera outbreaks are spread through water and not poisonous air. Hopkinson does a magnificent job of adding in fiction characters, storylines, and drama. Really with out her additions this book would fall very flat indeed. I certainly would recommend this for a read aloud during epidemic and infectious disease sections of science. This is also a great read to sneak to historical fiction readers who maybe need a push towards sci ...more
Nov 25, 2015 Maryam rated it liked it
Honestly, I did not really like this book. I found the plot not that interesting because it was all about illnesses and diseases and I don't rally enjoy reading books about them. Also, this book took a while to get to the part where the problem actually gets noticed and when it gets solved as well. I also found that the way this book was written was also uninteresting because it does not show much excitement or other emotions in comparison with the other books that I have already read. I recomme ...more
Aug 16, 2016 Michele rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-books
If this book were presented as a fancy dessert at a fine restaurant it would receive rave reviews. The flavor is not five stars but it gets marks for presentation, class and style.
I think this is a great introduction to science and asking the right questions and early hypothesis and it is done in an intriguing mystery style, even a bit of Sherlock Holmes and some Dickens as well.

I can see early readers really enjoying this and learning from it.
Maria Kiguthi
Mar 15, 2013 Maria Kiguthi rated it really liked it
My 7 year old read this book out loud to me. He loves all things science so this was a good match for him. The book is a historical fiction tale about Eels as he helps Dr John Snow investigate a huge cholera outbreak on Broad Street. The book is very close to actual events and while some words were hard for a 7 year old it would be a great fit for a little older child. I received a copy through Goodreads First Reads.
Zack Nelson
Jan 01, 2016 Zack Nelson rated it really liked it
I like "The Great Trouble" by Deborah Hopkison. It is my favorite mystery books that I've read. It is full of twists and surprises. It was actually a historical-mystery book that has a lot of truth and is fairly historically accurate. It was a good book for anyone 6th and up. (For extra pages in class, 249 pages)
Joy Teacher Cordes
Jul 12, 2016 Joy Teacher Cordes rated it it was amazing
Historical fiction that will make you want to wash your hands non-stop! Knowing it was well researched by the author made me cringe even more. I enjoyed the "extras" at the end that included a timeline, biographies, and behind the scenes of how the author came up with character names and story lines.
Jan 17, 2016 Meridith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful book! Again another youth fiction that I grabbed at the library. My son read it and really enjoyed it! Historical fiction about a cholera outbreak in Victorian England. A boy named Eel, whose life is less than perfect is a hero in this story. A great read, I would highly suggest it!
Feb 23, 2016 Grace rated it it was amazing
This book is truly one of a kind. I have never read anything like it before.
Dec 29, 2016 Sara rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! Our middle school Battle of the Books is currently reading Patient Zero, which discusses Dr. Snow and the cholera outbreak that is central to this book. Great story.
Hoover Public Library Kids and Teens
Thanks to my co-worker and friend Traci for recommending this one! Readers learn a lot about the cholera epidemic and Victorian London from Eel, a young boy with a secret.
Aug 22, 2014 Shannon rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
There's a subgenre of historical fiction I call Kids in the Middle of an Historic Crisis. This book is a solid member of this genre. A pleasure to read; liked the characters.
Abbi B.
Feb 16, 2017 Abbi B. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a mystery that will make u want to read more. Eel is a boy that has a brother that are hiding from fisheye bill. Eel loses his job from the lion brewery because he was accused of stealing money when he didn't he just simply had another job . He tries to prove himself by finding his other boss but when he gets there he finds out that is sick of cholera-a disease that was spread by miasma, bad air. He gets a job from dr snow who is helping with this problem because almost the entire b ...more
Zachary Schmidt
Feb 21, 2017 Zachary Schmidt rated it it was amazing
I did enjoyed this book, because of all the suspense and adventure that went on during the story. There is a boy named Eel and his friend Dr. Snow, a sickness starts to spread around the town of london and it is there job to find out what is going on and how to stop it. my favorite part of this book was when a man named eyeless jack came to Eel's step father's house to save Eel. I would recommend this book to anyone that likes a good adventure, because Eel must travel all around London and in th ...more
Mar 10, 2017 Yami rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I adore this kind of fast paced historical fiction, I swear I can can add to my knowledge thanks to them more than if I stayed all night reading form a medical text book.
this piece is about a boy named Eel who has a small secret and a personal reason to earn his keep, in an Oliver-twistish kinda of event and characters ,you will learn about the epidemic of Cholera in the Victorian era, and in an entertaining way you will know and learn about big names, like Dr.John Snow, that can actually made
Darcie Saunier
Mar 17, 2017 Darcie Saunier rated it really liked it
This was a really good children's book about the cholera epidemic in London in 1854. According to the author, it was inspired by the book The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson (which happened to be on my unending "To Read" list!). The Great Trouble tells the tale of the epidemic from social and scientific points of view, while also telling the story of a boy named Eel, his friends, and his enemies. Good book!
Rachel Grover
Oct 30, 2016 Rachel Grover rated it it was amazing
Loved it. I had no idea that this was even a historical event and in this book found myself walking the streets of London, wondering the same questions as the main character when cholera has taken over his neighborhood. A lovely companion to Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, this novel raises awareness of a little-known historical event and brings to light several important pioneers in the study of medicine and public health. Thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
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I write picture books, nonfiction, and middle grade fiction. I love history and visiting schools to talk to young readers.

Recent awards for picture books include the Jane Addams Peace Association Award for STEAMBOAT SCHOOL and the 2017 Green Earth Book Award for FOLLOW THE MOON HOME.

My nonfiction includes TITANIC: VOICES FROM THE DISASTER, a 2013 Sibert Honor Book and a 2013 YALSA Excellence in N
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