By Louis Sachar
Available now from Scholastic
I think many reviewers other than myself will compare FUZZY MUD to HOLES. It's the obvious comparison. Both involve disparate plot threads coming together, strong social messages, and young heroes with the strength to do the right thing. FUZZY MUD feels like HOLES, even though it is a less complex and ultimately less successful novel. No shade - HOLES is practically perfect.
Tamaya Dhilwaddi had my heart from go. She's smart and follows the rules and has trouble making friends. I definitely remember that difficulty of trying to figure out what I was doing wrong as a kid. She's friends with seventh-grader Marshall Walsh, who is two years older and who won't interact with her during the school day. They just walk home together. Then they take a shortcut through the woods one day, because he wants to avoid the school bully, Chad.
But Chad goes missing and Tamaya gets sick.
FUZZY MUD builds up the dread of what is lurking in the woods wonderfully, repeated equations giving a small sense of the scope of what is happening. Court transcripts hint at what is waiting and how it was allowed to happen. (At the end, these transcripts also reveal an imperfect compromise.) The environmental message doesn't seem so preachy when wrapped up in a nice layer of horror and an ending that isn't nice and neat. It also helps that Tamaya is a compelling main character who can make her actions come across as more important than the message.
FUZZY MUD is a great introduction to some complicated scientific debates regarding the creation, manufacturing, and regulation of biofuel. It's also a great story about bullying and forgiveness and courage. It is written for a slightly younger age group than HOLES, and I think it hits the mark.
Spoiler: The dog dies.