Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In a recent interview on NPR, Louis Sachar said that kids love to be scared. He’s right, of course, but it’s hard to tell what’s scarier in FUZZY MUD. Is it the titular fuzzy mud, a genetically-engineered bio-product that has somehow escaped its storage tanks and is growing exponentially in the woods? Or is it just Sachar’s middle school?
The main character is Tamaya Dhilwaddi, who is trying hard to negotiate her social identity as middle school rules pull the rug out from under her. In elementary school, she and her friends were all on the same page: They worked hard to follow the rules and please their teacher. But as Sachar said in his interview, “now suddenly her friends are no longer acting like that. They call her a goody goody and a goody two-shoes, and she's not sure what happened.”
Her walking buddy, Marshall Walsh, has it even worse. There’s a new kid at the school and he brags of impossibly bad behavior, and as a result, everyone is trying to court his favor and stay off his bad side. But Marshall ends up right on that bad side for reasons that make no sense to him at all. It’s scary how easily and inexplicably these things happen.
Out in the woods behind the school, a man-made ecological disaster is happening. And here is where most middle grade book blurbs would say, “and only Tamaya and Marshall can stop it!” But for Sachar, man-made ecological disasters are just as hard to negotiate as middle school is, and their solutions are well out of the reach of a couple of plucky kids. Instead, Marshall and Tamaya get swept up in it, and that’s when the terror really begins.
Sachar’s story is short and simple, but do not mistake its simplicity for a lack of depth. It’s a rare roller-coaster middle grade book that does not bring everyone back safely to the station after the thrills are over. Five jittery stars.