Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar. August 4, 2015. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 192 pages. Ages 10 and up.
To fifth-grader Tamaya, the rules seem to be changing, and she seems to be the only one who doesn't know what is socially acceptable anymore. Marshall, the 7th grade boy next door who walks with her to school is also having problems at school thanks to the new kid, and bully, Chad, who has targeted him for some reason and turned all his friends against him.
In order to avoid the fight Chad challenged him to, Marshall decides to cut through the woods. Tamaya doesn't want to go, but she is not supposed to walk home alone, so she reluctantly accompanies him. Soon, it become apparent that Marshall is lost, and to make matters worse, Chad has followed them. Chad begins beating Marshall, and Tamaya tries to defend her friend and grabs a handful of strange, fuzzy mud and throws it in Chad's face, allowing her and Marshall to escape, but not before Chad threatens both of them.
Later, Tamaya's hand begins to feel strange, and breaks out in a rash. By the next day, her hand is covered in bloody blisters, and the rash is spreading up her arm. She is certain it has something to do with the strange mud in the woods that she threw in Chad's face. Then, she is learns that Chad is missing and fears he could be in real danger from the mud and sets off to search for him, feeling responsible.
What will Chad do to her if she finds him? What is in the strange mud?
I found the story to be fast-paced with main characters that many kids could relate to. It is part sci-fi mystery-thriller, but it also has an underlying theme about bullying and coming of age as it shows how both Marshall and Tamaya struggle to negotiate the ever-changing rules of the tween social structure and in the end explains what led to Chad's bad behavior and bullying. Of course, being a middle-grade novel, in the end the three of them become friends and all is forgiven.
Having read Sachar's Holes, Small Steps, and There's A Boy In The Girls' Bathroom, I expected this book to be more along those lines, realistic fiction with young male protagonists dealing with difficult situations, and was a little disappointed. Fuzzy Mud is fine for what it is, but I found it to be much more similar to R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series than the Sachar books I was familiar with (not having read the Wayside School books). This book would definitely appeal to Goosebumps fans. As it deals with the dangers of scientific research gone amok due to carelessness or arrogance, I would suggest readers who enjoy this might go on to enjoy some of Michael Crichton's works when they get older.
12-Year Old Son's Verdict
My son also read this book and said he really liked it and hoped Sachar would write more like it. He agreed with my assessment that it seemed very Goosebumps-esque, but a bit more realistic.