There’s no doubt that Louis Sachar, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Holes, knows how to draw in his readers. His latest book, Fuzzy Mud, reads like a middle school version of Contagion―it’s a thriller that will have readers quickly turning its pages.
In this case, the culprit isn’t a virus, but a mutant microbe of an amazing new biofuel that’s somehow multiplying like crazy in the woods next to Woodbridge Academy. Three Woodbridge students end up in these woods one afternoon when seventh-grader Marshall Walsh takes a shortcut to avoid a fight with bully Chad Hilligas. Fifth-grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi has followed as well; she always walks home with Marshall, her neighbor.
The trio has no idea that a strange mutation under their feet threatens to become a world crisis, but Sachar inserts short portions of secret Senate hearings between chapters to enhance the big picture. Then Tamaya unknowingly dips her hand into the mutant microbe (which she calls Fuzzy Mud) and flings it at Chad’s face. Tamaya and Marshall run home, but the next day they’re dismayed to hear that Chad is missing. Meanwhile, Tamaya’s hand is covered with a bloody, blistering rash that is spreading like wildfire. Tamaya and Marshall face a moral crisis about whether to return to the woods to try to help their lost enemy. Their ensuing search is so dramatic that readers will genuinely fear that none of them will make it out alive.
Although the novel’s imagined biological catastrophe seems far-fetched and the biofuel inventor never becomes more than an eccentric caricature, the heart and soul of this book belongs to Tamaya, Marshall and Chad, and their compelling journey from hatred to friendship.