Deadly: How Do You Catch an Invisible Killer?

Atheneum Books for Young Readers  2011


Deadly is Julie Chibbaro’s second book, a riveting teen read delivered in the form of a diary by protagonist Prudence, a seventeen-year-old Jewish teen living in New York in the early 1900s. Fiercely observant of life around her and deeply troubled by death and disease, Prudence seems set to finish polishing school and become a typist until she is hired as an assistant by the New York Department of Health. The job catapults her into the worlds of research and medicine, compelling and fascinating her but also frightening her with the choices they demand. Under the guidance of her boss, Mr. Soper, Prudence begins investigating the source of a typhoid epidemic, eventually tracing the “invisible killer” disease to Mary Mallon, a cook for the rich. This is where fiction and non-fiction collide, for through the voice of her lead character, Chibbaro retells Mallon’s story as the first person identified as a typhoid carrier and the effects this identification had on her life.

Prudence’s diary entries are compelling, combining the maturity of a woman coming of age with an environment in which women were seen as far from equal. Limited by poverty and her gender, Prudence nevertheless forges ahead professionally, committed to her ambition and learning in the process about love, loyalty, and her family’s deepest fears. Deadly is a quick, easy, and fun read, particularly for teens interested in history, medicine, or both. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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