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Monday, September 14, 2015

Fuzzy Mud, written by Louis Sachar. Doubleday Canada, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"... he couldn't get the image of Tamaya's grotesque hand out of his mind; torn strips of bloody gauze had dangled from her blistered flesh. He saw her eyes too. They pleaded with him to do the right thing. Man, just when things are finally going good for me, he thought. Why do girls always have to go and ruin everything? He knew the right thing to do."

Here's another one of those books I could not put down! Meeting the three main characters was quite the experience, to say the least. We learn quickly that Tamaya and Marshall are social outcasts to some of their classmates. Tamaya, a fifth grader, is teased for always being 'good'. Marshall sits between two groups of seventh graders, alone and ignored by his classmates.
They have something else in common. They live a distance from their private school and they walk together each day.

"Marshall had a rule. They weren't supposed to act like friends around school. They were just two kids who walked to school together because they had to. They definitely were not boyfriend and girlfriend, and Marshall didn't want anyone thinking they were."

On this particular day, Marshall heads away from school in a different direction than their usual way. He is moody and gruff, and offers no explanation for the shortcut. Because she is not allowed to walk home alone, Tamaya has to go with him. The woods are an unacceptable route according to Tamaya's mother. Tamaya is caught between a rock and a hard place. She does not yet know that Marshall has been threatened with retribution by the class bully, Chad. Marshall feels he has no way out but to avoid a meeting.

What is in the woods is far more frightening than Chad's threats, but the two don't know that yet. It is the next day before Tamaya develops a rash, and the two learn that Chad is missing. The 'fuzzy mud' that Tamaya discovered and then threw at Chad is a mystery substance that turns their lives upside down.

As you most certainly know if you have read other books by this skilled author, the characters he creates and the elements of his books are compelling and memorable. In this cautionary tale, he reminds us to be ever mindful of the environment and what we are doing to it. Classified government meetings held to discuss the fuzzy mud are interspersed throughout the text, allowing readers a look at what was intended, and what really happened in developing a product called Biolene. Bullying and taking a stand are also relevant and topical issues for middle graders.

Each of the three main characters are greatly changed by their experiences. In the end, readers feel hopeful for their futures. This is a great read. It is mysterious, and full of suspense. It will give readers pause when considering the advances being made in science and the ultimate effects they may have on society.

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