The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, by Summer Rachel Short

The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, by Summer Rachel Short (Simon and Schuster, Sept. 22 2020) is a great one for kids who love science (especially real-world science taken into the realm of the speculative) mixed with mystery and danger!

Maggie has set her sights on winning the Junior Naturalist Merit Award offered by Vitaccina, the one big employer in the small southern town of Shady Pines.  If she wins, maybe she can convince Vitaccina to offer her dad a job again. An unfortunate occurrence of rats in a vat of Vitaccina soda (made with rainforest ingredients) led to his firing, and now he's miles away working for the Park service, while Maggie and her older brother Ezra live with their grandma in a trailer park.  

When her best friend Nate talks her into exploring a forbidden woods where weird "ghost lights" have been seen, Maggie agrees to trespass with him--maybe the lights are a natural phenomena she can photograph.  And indeed, they find a host of bioluminescent mushrooms.  Old Man Bell, the owner of the woods also finds them, but while he's threatening them with his dogs, he has a heart-attack and dies. Ezra, who joined the younger kids, tries to save the man, but ends up having weird glowing spores coughed all over him...

When Maggie figures out that the last word Old Man Bell tried to say was "ophiocordyceps," and looks it up, she becomes convinced the fungi are seriously strange, and quite possibly dangerous.  Ophiocordyceps is a real fungus that turns ants into zombies, driving them to infect their own nests. This is just what seems to be happening in Shady Pines--Ezra, his friends, and other townsfolk are acting like they are becoming zombified.  

Maggie and Nate can't find help anywhere--not from the heads of Vitaccina, though they do seem very interested in Maggie's research, and no from the CDC, who think they're pranksters.  But Maggie has a sharp mind, and knows how to use it...and though the fungus becomes an almost insurmountable adversary, with it's human puppets doing its will, she figures out how it came to Shady Pines, and how to defeat it.

It's a great to see Maggie putting her love for science and research to work, nice to see the teamwork and loyalty of the two kids, and grossly horrible to see people infected with nasty fungi!  The pace picks up dramatically as the spores spread and the pages turn, and the final confrontation is a cinematic whammy! And as a result it's easy to imagine lots of kids eating it up! There isn't an awful lot of mg science fiction with  kid doing actually research and investigation, and this is a good one.

(not a criticism-- I myself found it a bit too hot and sticky for this to be a really pleasant read--the spore-filled southern summer was really vividly described!  so perhaps a good one to read in January....)

NB:  The Mutant Mushroom Takeover is eligible for this year's Cybils Awards, and has yet to be nominated....the public nomination period closes October 15!

disclaimer: review copy gratefully received from the author

No comments:

Post a Comment

Free Blog Counter

Button styles