Sunday, February 04, 2007

Laurie Halse Anderson, Fever 1793

Here's a pretty good book for YA girls. It follows the story of fourteen-year-old Matilda Cook, whose mother owns Cook's Coffeehouse in 1793 Philadelphia just as the yellow fever epidemic strikes the city. Spreading quickly from the ports into the city itself, the fever forces residents to take to the roads, and when her mother begins to exhibit symptoms and is whisked away to the country residence of family friends, Mattie and her elderly Grandfather are left to their own devices to seek shelter and medical attention as soon as possible.

Fever has a solid story with plenty of page-turning episodes to keep young readers engaged, including the appearance of two murderous burglers, the acquisition of a young waif named Nell, and even a little romance with (sigh!) Nathaniel Benson! What I liked best here, however, was the story's basis in historical fact: its descriptions of the cruel treatment of fever victims by the common people, how doctors both here and in Europe treated the disease differently, and Anderson's use of enough Appendix-laden material to qualify this novel as clearly a piece of YA historical fiction.

Predictably, of course, we have the young protagonist who begins the novel with a certain set of values and, because of a life-altering experience, is now a much more "grown-up" individual by novel's end. It's fine to offer younger readers that sort of life-affirming storyline, but it's becoming so formulaic to me this year (after having read Soldier's Heart, Under the Same Sky, and Touching Spirit Bear) that I'm actually on a search at this point for something ... I don't know ... different.

Nevertheless, Fever is a good book, especially for young female readers. Check it out!

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