By Ekta R. Garg
August 5, 2015
Genre: Middle grade fiction
Rated: Bordering on Bypass it
Originally billed as the greatest solution to the world’s energy crisis, a new life form has somehow migrated from its secret farm location to the surrounding area. When three kids run across the energy alternative in the woods behind their school, they will need to put aside any personal differences to help save their town and, potentially, the world. Louis Sachar, author of the wildly successful book Holes, brings middle grade readers another story with his trademark style in the well-intended but ultimately hollow book Fuzzy Mud.
Tamaya and Marshall live on the same street and have walked to and from school together for three years. Although Tamaya is two years younger than Marshall, he’s never minded her company much. Their two-mile walk could be shorter if they cut through the woods. But everyone knows a dangerous hermit lives in the woods, and no one goes in them…until now.
On a cool day in November, Marshall decides he wants to take a shortcut home. The matter actually gets decided for him when the new seventh grader in Marshall’s class, Chad, challenges Marshall to a fight after school. In order to avoid Chad, Marshall knows, he and Tamaya will have to go through the woods.
It seems like a foolproof plan—until Marshall and Tamaya get turned around in the unfamiliar terrain. To make matters worse, Chad manages to find them. He challenges Marshall to a fight right then and there, and Tamaya flings some odd fuzzy-looking mud at Chad to distract him. She and Marshall make a break for it, expecting with every step that Chad will follow them.
When Chad doesn’t show up in school the next day, however, Tamaya figures out that something must have gone wrong and goes back to look for him. Marshall learns that Tamaya has gone missing, and he goes after her. None of them know the woods that well, and they all have to deal with the fuzzy mud Tamaya threw at Chad.
Author Louis Sachar brings to Fuzzy Mud his trademark wit and charm. Readers will thoroughly enjoy the humorous asides and character quirks Sachar shares, and Sachar doesn’t hesitate to offer some of the challenges middle grade students face in the real world. Targeted readers will appreciate Sachar’s honesty and his attempts to make light of uncomfortable situations.
Unfortunately the book fails to challenge its target audience. Chad’s pursuit of Marshall and Tamaya’s return to the woods take up the majority of the story. The only way readers will learn of the secret energy alternative is through excerpts of “energy committee hearings,” and in some places these excerpts offer more movement in the story than the main plot. In essence, the book could be summed up as: Chad and Marshall’s fight; Tamaya defending Marshall; Chad’s disappearance; Tamaya and Marshall’s rescue of Chad and their small Pennsylvania town.
The book lacks depth and heft, surprising considering Sachar’s success with the detailed plot of Holes. Middle grade readers will leave the book feeling like something is missing. Sachar would have done well to offer more information about everyone involved in the story, especially Chad as the bully.
Diehard fans of Sachar’s work may want to Borrow this one; otherwise I recommend readers Bypass it.
(I received this book from the publisher for my unbiased, honest review.)