Author: Louis Sachar
My rating: 4 of 5
It all started when Marshall and Tamaya took a “short cut” through the woods to avoid a bully. Or maybe it was before that, when a scientist caught up in inventing a new, renewable fuel source came up with the idea of Biolene, a genetically engineered microorganism that reproduces every thirty-six minutes. Whatever the case, the moment Tamaya stuck her hand in a muddy puddle covered in strange fuzzy stuff and threw that mud in the face of Chad–the bully who had tracked them down in the woods in spite of their precautions–she became part of a historic disaster on a grand scale. And just maybe, she became the girl who saved the world.
Louis Sachar’s writing is always a treat to read, with his easy humor and readable text. Fuzzy Mud was all of that, but it took a more intense perspective than most of his books. It was excellent. The characters were enjoyable, and they prompted the reader to take another look at bullying–from both sides of the situation. Furthermore, the entire plot was crafted in such a way as to raise ecological awareness about a number of hot topics: fuel shortages, overpopulation, and genetic engineering to name a few. As I said, the actual plot writing was intense, but also middle-grade appropriate. I really enjoyed the way notes from the legal proceedings over Biolene were interspersed within the text in a way almost reminiscent of that used in Carrie. Furthermore, the addition of mathematical equations scattered throughout to demonstrate how quickly one microorganism can become thousands really served to add a great sense of tension, as did the petri-dish illustrations at each chapter header–complete with samples doubling each chapter and spilling over the page! I think for middle-grade and older readers who enjoy an intense but thoughtful biological/ecological thriller, Fuzzy Mud is an excellent choice.
Authors: James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
Jackson Oz has known for years that something’s wrong with the animal population–freak attacks and unusual behaviors are growing exponentially. But it seems like no one in the scientific world wants to listen to him. He believes he has evidence, but people don’t even want to look at his theories. It doesn’t help that Oz doesn’t have the degrees to back up his opinions, and neither does the fact that he has no idea what’s causing this outbreak of animal violence or how to solve it. He gets his break–sadly and terrifyingly–when a research trip to Africa leads to his group’s being attacked by a pride of all male lions–an attack that Oz captures on video for the world to see.
Ever since I discovered James Patterson’s books, I’ve loved them, and what I’ve read that was done with Michael Ledwidge (Daniel X) has also been excellent. Having said that, Zoo was quite good–original, exciting, and suspenseful–but I honestly didn’t enjoy it as much as I have his other books. Part of that is just that it was written for an adult audience, and for Patterson’s writing style, I prefer his young adult books–I think he brings the characters out better in them, maybe. Although Oz and Chloe were great characters, they were so totally caught up in the events taking place around them that I felt like they got lost a bit. Also, as an animal lover, I found it distasteful that so much of the story was about animal violence; however, the authors did make a point that it was humans’ messing up the environment that caused the animals to behave that way. Which leads me to the biggest problem I think I had: I’m no scientist, but the whole plot setup just seemed a bit far-fetched, especially the solution that fixed in days what had been building for years. Having said all that, the plot was intriguing to the extent that I was able to allow myself to go along with it . . . horrifyingly intriguing, gory, and thought provoking (again, to the extent that I was able to let myself go with it). I thought all the short segments from other people’s perspectives around the world helped to flesh out the magnitude and horror of the story well. So . . . I think Zoo is a fine option for mature adult readers who are looking for a horrifying, gripping thriller, but not so much for the serious reader. I honestly probably won’t read it again (whereas every other Patterson I’ve ever read is on the definite re-read list).