As promised, today we have a review of Megan Abbott’s new novel, The Fever. When last we saw Abbott she was wowing us with Dare Me, which got her a starred review and a place on our list of 2012’s Best Adult Books 4 Teens.
The Fever has gotten her another starred review, and (spoiler alert) a spot on our upcoming list of the the Best Adult Books 4 Teens of 2014, So Far. But it did have to fight me a little for that position. It’s a strange book, and a little hard to pin down. In particular, the tone was a bit tough for me to place. With a plot about an unexplained illness affecting high school girls, which may or may not have to do with either their sexual activity or their HPV vaccines, this is a novel that has to grapple with a lot of very tricky political and social issues.
At times I thought it was veering towards satire, sending up the hysterical reactions of parents towards teen sex. But Abbott is altogether too fair to her characters for satire to truly set in. In fact, at other times, her fairness towards her characters made me nervous that she was putting too much credence in anti-vaxxer claptrap. In the end, it became apparent that she is not out to make a specific political or social point so much as to engage in a sensitive discussion about the ways in which these political and social issues affect all of us. And for that, she very much deserves a starred review.
* ABBOTT, Megan. The Fever. 240p. Little, Brown. June 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780316231053.
Abbott’s provocative new novel masterfully dissects mass hysteria brought on by a community’s collective revulsion toward female sexuality. The trouble begins when Deenie Nash’s best friend, Lise, has an unexplained seizure–in full view of her high school classmates–that lands her in the hospital in a semi-conscious state. Soon, other girls, first close friends, later total strangers, begin exhibiting similar symptoms, and school, parents, and students alike believe they are in the grip of a full-blown epidemic. The fact that doctors cannot explain what the disease is or why it only affects girls only encourages gossip, which quickly coalesces around accusations that the “fever” is a result of the HPV vaccines that all high school girls have been required to take. The novel alternates viewpoints among Deenie, her brother Eli, and their father, who is a teacher at their school. And even though none of the Nashes believes the vaccine rumor, even Deenie and Eli begin to believe that the source lies with what they see as the troubling sexual behaviors of the afflicted girls. Abbott’s prose is a smoldering slow burn, allowing each excruciating minute of unease to unsettle into readers, even as the author carefully lays down clues to the ultimate solution. And her indictment of the mindless panic of a community leads readers to wonder just who is afflicted by the fever of the title. Teens will be drawn to the mystery trappings, the high-school setting, and the frank discussion of the sometimes-quite scary terrain of sex.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA