Saturday, June 5, 2021

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson


So I'm currently doing a project where I'm rerereading the books of my adolescence, and FEVER 1793 is the latest in the line-up. If the author's name sounds familiar, it's because she's also the author of SPEAK, which was another addition to my project. Unlike SPEAK, FEVER appears to be written for a middle grade audience. It actually reminded me a lot of the Dear America diaries which were coming out around the same time; it's a little bland and the primary purpose seems to educate rather than to entertain. Mattie Cook is no Melinda Sordino.

Reading FEVER 1793 was actually quite interesting (read: terrifying) in the aftermath of COVID. Having actually lived through a quarantine and pandemic, it's kind of morbidly fascinating to note the parallels: idiots who think the fever can't happen to them, bad science, bad medical advice, deniers, mass panic, suspicion and paranoia. As yellow fever grips Mattie's Philadelphia town, compromising her family's livelihood, she ends up being forced to make do through terrible extremes just to survive another day.

It doesn't actually hold up that badly. The pacing is woefully slow but there is a lot of action and the fever provides some real stakes. For a middle grade novel, it's quite dark. There is illness and death and people acting selfishly. One of Mattie's friends is a freed slave and we get to know a little bit about her story, but racism really isn't touched upon that much here. This is, after all, a kids' book written in the early 2000s. I wouldn't say it's a keeper but it helped me while away the hours.

3 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

  1. There are still boxes and boxes of these at my school. The seventh grade used to study them as a crossover unit between the history curriculum and the science curriculum, and there were projects galore with viruses, etc. I don't think it's been used in the last 15 years. I still have the library copy, but I think you're right that it isn't the best book for a novel unit right now. We also have lots of copies of Cooney's Code Orange that modern readers would probably find slow as well. Hope you are enjoying revisiting the books of your past!


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