Monday, June 15, 2015

NONFICTION MONDAY: Fatal Fever by Gail Jarrow


In March 1907, the lives of three remarkable people collided at a New York City brownstone where Mary Mallon worked as a cook. They were brought together by typhoid fever, a dreaded scourge that killed tens of thousands of Americans each year. Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary is the first middle-grade trade book that tells the true story of the woman who unwittingly spread deadly bacteria, the epidemiologist who discovered her trail of infection, and the health department that decided her fate. This gripping story follows this tragic disease as it shatters lives from the early twentieth century to today. It will keep readers on the edges of the seats wondering what happened to Mary and the innocent typhoid victims. With glossary, timeline, list of well-known typhoid sufferers and victims, further resource section, author’s note, and source notes.


Gail Jarrow has a remarkable ability to tell a compelling story, the fact that the story is true makes it all the more interesting.  I really enjoyed her previous book, Red Madness, so I was really looking forward to reading this one.  I loved this one as well.  This book is everything that narrative nonfiction should be, a compelling story, interesting characters, and a challenging problem.  Disease has long been a source of great suffering and difficulty and it still is throughout the world.  Reading a story like this helps reveal the many who have helped fight the battle against disease, some by choice, and others like Mary Mellon, very unwillingly.

Mary's story is a sad one as she was as much a victim as those she infected, at least until she deliberately chose to ignore the warnings she received when she was released.  She had the unfortunate honor of being the first healthy typhoid character identified in the United States.  As such, public health officials weren't really sure what to do with her, so they locked her up.  She wasn't treated particularly fairly considering the problem wasn't her fault.  But her refusal to accept her status as a carrier made things even worse.  The challenge of protecting the public's health versus individual rights is one that continues to be fought to this day.

This book is both a fascinating individual story but also a story of the fight against a disease and the people who waged that fight.  I can recommend this book to those like myself who find such stories fascinating both the historical aspects as well as the science.

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