Loved 'Holes'? 'Fuzzy Mud', Louis Sachar's first book in four years, is as thrilling as that classic [Review]

By John Millen

If you come across a patch of gooey slime, leave it alone. It might be fuzzy mud, and if you touched it, the results could be dire.

By John Millen |

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Fuzzy Mud
By Louis Sachar
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 6474 6

If you come across a patch of gooey slime, leave it alone. It might be fuzzy mud, and if you touched it, the results could be dire.

Touching fuzzy mud is dangerous, but reading Fuzzy Mud, the first new novel in four years from Louis Sachar, is an excellent idea. Anyone who has read Holes or There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom will know that Sachar is an author who doesn't do ordinary. His new novel is an entertaining but cautionary tale that touches on the serious issues of friendship, bullying and the environment with typical Sachar wit and clever writing.

Tamaya and Marshall have been friends since primary school. They are now pupils at Woodridge Academy, a prestigious private school in the town of Heath Cliff, Pennsylvania. After class one day, the pair decides to take a shortcut home through the woods to avoid the school bully who has been targeting Marshall.

But bullies are not easily put off, and Chad Hilligas is determined to pick on Marshall until he cracks.

As they walk through the trees, Tamaya notices a pool of odd-looking mud on the ground. Whatever it is comes in very useful when the awful Chad leaps on Marshall out of nowhere; Tamaya scoops up a handful of the stuff and throws it in Chad's face, and the two friends manage to escape.

But that evening, Tamaya develops a nasty rash on her hands, and the following day Chad doesn't show up for school. What is going on in the sleepy town of Heath Cliff?

Few people know that nearby SunRay Farm is a secret government facility developing Biolene, an alternative fuel. Biolene has been developed from ergonyms, a microscopic life-form specially created by the scientists at the Farm. And the "fuzzy mud" Tamaya found definitely shouldn't have wound up in the woods.

The town soon has to be quarantined to stop the spread of an out-of-control epidemic, the result of science tampering with nature.

Fuzzy Mud takes on big and controversial issues, but never loses its goal of being an edge-of-the-seat novel for young teens. Sachar is an expert at mixing suspense, big and small ideas, and witty writing.

This is a thrilling read, bringing large issues into the everyday dramas of school life. It is vintage, fast-paced Sachar that will intrigue and excite readers, as well as making them think twice about how to treat one another, as well as our fragile environment.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]