Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: Deadly

Julie Chibbaro
Historical Young Adult
304 pages
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Available Now
Received through Teen Book Scene for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
A mysterious outbreak of typhoid fever is sweeping New York.

Could the city’s future rest with its most unlikely scientist?

If Prudence Galewski is ever going to get out of Mrs. Browning’s esteemed School for Girls, she must demonstrate her refinement and charm by securing a job appropriate for a young lady. But Prudence isn’t like the other girls. She is fascinated by how the human body works and why it fails.

With a stroke of luck, she lands a position in a laboratory, where she is swept into an investigation of the fever bound to change medical history. Prudence quickly learns that an inquiry of this proportion is not confined to the lab. From ritzy mansions to shady bars and rundown tenements, she explores every potential cause of the disease. But there’s no answer in sight—until the volatile Mary Mallon emerges. Dubbed “Typhoid Mary” by the press, Mary is an Irish immigrant who has worked as a cook in every home the fever has ravaged. Strangely, though, she hasn’t been sick a day in her life. Is the accusation against her an act of discrimination? Or is she the first clue in a new scientific discovery?

Prudence is determined to find out. In a time when science is for men, she’ll have to prove to the city, and to herself, that she can help solve one of the greatest medical mysteries of the twentieth century.

Written in journal entry format, Deadly details the profound discovery that a healthy individual can be a carrier of contagious disease, combining the art of storytelling with factual evidence and scientific process to give us an intriguing, albeit brief, look into medical understanding in the early nineteen hundreds. The beginning chapters are a bit tedious as we follow Prudence in her attempt to find a job that will challenge her mind beyond gender-standard secretarial work, her journal entries fraught with details that seem to have no bearing on the overall plot arc other than to give us additional insight into the mind of our protagonist. Once her job with the Department of Health and Sanitation begins however, the story picks up and Prudence’s proclivity for questioning anything and everything around her seems to infect us through osmosis as we hold the pages, and we flip through the often very short chapters in search of answers to satisfy both Prudence and ourselves.

Prudence is a young woman easy to admire, her desire to find a job she feels will have an impact on society and her conviction to see that job through in the pursuit of a career typically frowned upon for women traits we fully support. While we may initially think the journal entry format will bring us closer to Prudence given we’re privy to her innermost thoughts as she documents them, rather the opposite seems to be true. Reading her journal keeps us at a bit of a distance, the physical paper pages of the book we’re reading combining with the fictional pages of Prudence’s personal records to form two separate barriers between us and the young woman we want to know. We have her thoughts, but her feelings and actions are often given to us in past tense–relayed to us after events have already taken place–and we’re denied the ability to experience them in real time with her to help us forge a connection based on shared moments of emotional or physical intensity.

While our relationship with Prudence may not be as deep or piercing as we might like, the story itself is inherently fascinating, and once we get to the actual pursuit of Mary Mallon we don’t want to set the book aside until we learn what becomes of her. Unfortunately, the story concludes with a rather open ending, our need for details about the outcome of Mary’s predicament and the results of her extensive testing only satisfied in the author’s note rather than in the story itself. Additionally, we have an idea of what Prudence’s future holds in store for her, knowing her dedication to science and learning will lead her into a medical field, however we can’t help but feel by the time we close the back cover that we spent nearly 300 pages with a stranger, seeing events through her eyes without ever truly being invited into her heart. Despite those flaws, the story is well written and will certainly entertain many a reader, those of us who crave a thriving connection with characters may just wish for a bit more from Prudence.

Rating: 3.5/5


  1. I have the exact same problem with books that are written in journal format! Even though the idea is really cool, it's always so much harder to connect with the character when the story is written that way. Still, at least the story is well-written and Prudence is a character you can admire because those are two important things too! :)

    Beautiful review as always, Jenny! <3

  2. For some reason, I can't totally enjoy books with diseases and testing and what not. AND, journal books aren't always a good bet for me. Though, it does depend on the book, I generally tend not to like them.

    BUT, you do make this book sound interesting. I can imagine the fascination this book would conjure, so that's pretty neat.

    Lovely review, Jenny!


  3. Not sure if I want to give this one a go specially seeing it's in journal format *~* But the cover and the synopsis is very attractive.
    Thanks for the review, Jenny :D

  4. I have no idea how I feel about books in journal format. I have only ever read a small number that were written that way, but none that stand out. Still, this does sound pretty interesting. Thanks for putting it on my radar! :)

  5. Yes! Your review says like everything I thought of this book...great story with a little bit to much of an open ending.....when I review this Ill just put its picture up and give a link to this review..........LOL

  6. I'm not sure about the journal entry format. It does sound interesting, I'm just not sure.

  7. Mimi - Yep, you'd think it would be the opposite, that somehow it would feel more intimate, but that wasn't the case for me here:)

    Asher - I'm always convinced I have whatever the disease/virus discussed when I'm done reading. I had typhoid for weeks after I closed the last page ;-)

    Prangon - It was an interesting read for sure. I knew nothing about Typhoid Mary so that was fun to read about.

    Sam - You're welcome! It's a quick read, and the whole case is really fascinating.

    Tina - Yes! I wanted to know more about Mary and what happened to her. Luckily there was some info in the author's note, but I would have loved a little more follow up in the story itself:) And you can totally have this review, no one will know ;-)

  8. Interesting, I thought the journal format worked well and I didn't feel Prudence to be so distant. I actually felt that I was like her! I do agree with you about the open ending but I ended up surfing the net to see what happened in real life (yes, I'm a dork. I know.). Normally, I would've have picked up this book at all but I was glad that I did, you know?

  9. The concept of this story fascinates me. Great review.

    BTW I love the name Prudence.

  10. Odd how a journal format (which you would think would allow a much deeper connection with the character) leaves one with a feeling of disconnect.

  11. Historical YA and journal format are not my favorites. But I just have to say I love the cover! That dress...*sigh*

  12. Rummanah - I enjoyed the journal format, it wasn't off putting at all, I just felt like I was distanced a bit from Prudence despite reading her innermost thoughts. I was glad I picked this one up too, the case was really interesting:)

    Juju - It was an intriguing read, I definitely wanted to Google Typhoid Mary when I was done!

    Amanda - I think it's the fact that with a journal, all the details are past tense, so you don't get to experience events with them, you just get a recounting of them later.

    Cayce - The cover is very cool I think:) I like historical YA, but the journal format is usually hit or miss with me:)

  13. I've read a couple books in journal format but wasn't really able to connect the the characters either. I'm thinking that I might have the same problem with Deadly.

  14. I first read about this book when Rummanah posted her review, and I wondered about that journal thing because it reminded me so much of another book about diseases I'd recently read, The Way We Fall. It did cause me to have a disconnect with the protag, even though it was supposed to be her most intimate thoughts. Like you, I have a feeling that Prudence's journal would keep me distant too.

  15. I like the journal format but I agree sometimes it doesn't allow you to connect with the character, I remember reading your author interview on this one and was intrigued by the whole concept. I am sad though that the ending is open ended, oh well better than a cliffhanger. I still would like to check this out sometime because I am interested in scientific history!

  16. I kind of hate open endings. I need CONCLUSION! I know sometimes it works though.
    It sounds like an interesting read and I might have to watch for it at the library. I think I may enjoy it.

  17. I'm being honest here, this book really didn't grab my attention at all... The synopsis doesn't intrigue me and even after reading your review I think I might pass on this.. As usual , I love your reviews - so beautiful!

  18. I think it would be interesting cos of the historic side of it

  19. Too bad! Three hundred pages is a lot of time to not feel a connection to the main character. Funnily enough I saw a show about "Typhoid Mary" this week. She didn't have a happy ending.
    As usual, you've done a great job of balancing the good with the not so good. Great review!


  20. Books in journal format can be really hit or miss with me. Sometimes, they're written in a way that fully draws you into the person's world, kind of like first person present does. But this one doesn't sound like it does that. More like a history book, keeping the reader at arm's length.

  21. I'd prefer to have this one with a closed ending and not be written in journal format, but I still like the sound of it. I know Rummanah really liked it as well so I'll probably be taking a look at this one. Thanks, Jenny!

  22. Journal format is cool! I like those types. It always seems much more personnal! Thanks for the review!

  23. I've read mixed reviews of this one. It doesn't sound perfect, but I want to read it. Have you read a book called The Ghost Map? It was great and I find epidemics fascinating.

  24. Tis is a new book for me. I am not always a big fan of open ended endings. Sometimes they really frustrate me. But I think I will still give this one a try

  25. I agree. Reading her life through journal entries does distance us from the character. I actually wish there had been more to the story. I also thought there was going to be a little bit more happening between Prudence and one of the scientists at the lab. I was let down when that fizzled in the romance dept. Great review!

  26. Oh no! After everything, I wouldn't want to become invested only to have an open ending, particularly in a book with a journal-type structure because for me, those are a little harder for me to follow.

    Great write-up, Jenny. I love your thoughts every time. <3

  27. I don't think I've ever heard about or seen this before, but I love the blurb for it. o: It sucks it seems to have such an open ending though. I'll have to take a closer look at this one to see if it's something for me! Great review, Jenny:)

  28. Hm, this book doesn't sound like it'd be the one for me, but I can definitely see some great elements in the story! I'm not too big of a fan of books in journal entry formats. Characters don't really get the chance to shine that way, in my opinion. Although you didn't really love this book, I'm happy to hear that this book is very well written! Excellent review, Jenny :)

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