Synopsis: Fifth grader Yamaha Dhilwaddi and seventh grader Marshall Walsh have been walking to and from Woodbridge Academy together since elementary school. But their routine is disrupted when bully Chad Hillgas challenges Marshall to a fight. To avoid the conflict, Marshall takes a shortcut home through the off-limits woods. Tamaya, unaware of the reason for the detour, reluctantly follows. They soon get lost. And then they find trouble. Bigger trouble than anyone could ever have imagined.
I’ve been a huge fan of Louis Sachar’s since I read Holes in 1999. He’s just one of those authors that perfectly captures the voices of his middle-school audience and with Fuzzy Mud, he’s mostly done it again.
Like Holes The strength of this book lies in it’s characters. While I didn’t find myself quite as invested in them as I was with the ones in Holes, kids will definitely relate to Tamaya, Marshall, and even Chad who winds up being surprisingly sympathetic.
The story is told in a clever combination of third person narrative and “exerpts” from a governmental inquiry into the events that unfold after the children stumble into the “fuzzy mud”, which is the result of a failed bio-engineering experiment. This could have been made into something truly terrifying, but instead, perhaps in keeping with the book’s intended audience, it’s mildly scary. There’s plenty of tension though, which slowly builds throughout the book, and culminates in a satisfying conclusion.
There are many themes in this story including the dangers of bio-engineering, bullying, and friendship. What really captured my attention was the author’s exploration of fear and courage. We’re all afraid of something and even as adults we still grapple with our fears. It just remains to be seen whether we choose to confront what scares us the most, or not. In Fuzzy Mud, Tamaya fears the woods, Marshall fears Chad, and Chad is frightened of not being accepted. How they each deal with their fears is just as important to the story as the actual mystery.
This is a perfect selection for reading with a class or in a book group. Because of the themes and subject matter it will definitely appeal to upper elementary school students as well as those in middle school and should provide for many hours of conversation.