Friday, June 10, 2016

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, 2000

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It's late summer 1793, and the streets of Philadelphia are abuzz with mosquitoes and rumors of fever. Down near the docks, many have taken ill, and the fatalities are mounting. Now they include Polly, the serving girl at the Cook Coffeehouse. But fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook doesn't get a moment to mourn the passing of her childhood playmate. New customers have overrun her family's coffee shop, located far from the mosquito-infested river, and Mattie's concerns of fever are all but overshadowed by dreams of growing her family's small business into a thriving enterprise. But when the fever begins to strike closer to home, Mattie's struggle to build a new life must give way to a new fight-the fight to stay alive.
(272 pages)

I didn't know anything about the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic before I read this book. I had a hazy idea that there were bouts of fever, sure, and I think I've even read some books about characters who live through it before. And yet it wasn't until I read Fever that the true horror of the ordeal became apparent to me.

That honestly makes this a very hard book for me to review. How do you analyze and rate your emotions? I'll do my best to put together a coherent review, though - and please be understanding if this is a little scattered.

The funny thing is that just today I was talking to a woman about my upcoming AP US History class, she asked if I'd read Fever; when I said I already had, we spent a minute talking about what an impression it had on us and how we'd never known anything about the yellow fever. This is the kind of book that leaves an impression on you, because it's so striking and horrifying. The thought of people dying in droves, of bodies rotting everywhere and being tossed into mass graves, of children left parentless and parents left childless, is absolutely horrifying.

Ick, I don't want to think about it. Except, that's what the entire novel does: it makes you think about it. And while it's not the thickest book on the topic I'm sure - and it focuses more on its main character than on the fever itself - this makes an excellent introduction to the topic as well as a very humanizing depiction of an event that would otherwise be just another dry entry in a history textbook. If you're interested, I definitely recommend Fever. If you give it a try, let me know what you think!

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