Little Brown, June 2014
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.
The Fever falls into the camp of books about the strange world of high school girls. In some ways it feels like a companion piece to the only other Abbott book I read, The End of Everything, as well as Laura Lippman’s The Power of Three. All involve very close teenage girlfriends and something sinister or criminal going on. In the case of The Fever, sixteen year old Lise Daniels has some sort of seizure at school and is in turn hospitalized as her symptoms worsen. Subsequently, a significant number of her classmates also are afflicted by seizures and other odd symptoms. The police and the county health department investigate, and in fits and starts, the story of Lise and her friends comes clear.
This is a story about dread: the girls who are friends with Lise dread it will happen to them, their parents dread the unknown cause of their daughters’ symptoms. The town itself feels a bit surreal before the girls are stricken: there is an algae-infested lake in town that is closed to people, and the weather is fairly gloomy as well.
But most of all, this feels like a call back to novels I read when I was much younger: there are references to Judy Blume (there’s a character named Deenie and another with scoliosis) and Lois Duncan (someone talks about astral projection). This is a book about taking teenage drama seriously. It was a sort of compelling read for me because the world of Dryden was so strange, but it also was a difficult read because the tone was just so serious and paranoid. The adults especially seemed more paranoid about the possible explanations for the rash of seizures affecting teenage girls in their community than the actual girls did. But the other reason I can’t say I loved the book is that I felt oddly detached from the main characters: I think the strangeness of what was happening overpowered the actual characters for me.
Other reviews appear in Books and Reviews and S. Krishna’s Books.
8 thoughts on “The Fever by Megan Abbott”
I read a mix of reviews about this book and it feels as though yours is kind of feeling that way as well. I don’t think I’ll add this one to my TBR.
I think it was an interesting read, but it wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Time to find something better!
Interesting review, Rebecca. I’ve heard so much about this writer and she’d on my list to try. Good to get another opinion.
Her early books are female-centric noir books, and the last few have been about teenage girls and crime– two very different kinds of books. I know lots of people who really like her stuff, but I’m a bit ambivalent.
About the central incident: I am sure I read a news story about such an incident happening to high school girls. Do you have any recollection of that news article? I don’t recall the details or the outcome.
I read somewhere that the story sounds a lot like what happened in LeRoy, NY a few years ago (and I think with the same explanation). Hope that helps!
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