Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Review: "The Fever" by Megan Abbott

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalleys in exchange for an unbiased review.

Deenie Nash and her friends, Lise and Gabby, seem like your typical high school students. They're anxious about classes, friends, and especially, boys. But their friendships are on shaky ground, as Lise transformed from a chubby girl into a young woman suddenly unaware of the appeal of her body, and Gabby is withdrawing from Deenie, spending more time with another student, the mysterious Skye. Deenie's father, Tom, is a popular teacher at her high school, and her older brother Eli is a high school hockey player who isn't quite sure how to handle so many girls throwing themselves at him.

In a split second, everything changes. Lise suddenly suffers a mysterious seizure during class, and her condition continues to worsen once she is rushed to the hospital. No one can stop talking about what happened to her, and pictures and videos of the seizure make their way across social media. And then suddenly other female students are experiencing strange symptoms—twitching, anxiety, vomiting, and psychological anguish. At a band concert the night after Lise's seizure, Gabby passes out as well, and no one knows what will happen next, and who will be affected.

As more girls become ill and/or hospitalized, both the school and the entire community are abuzz, trying to figure out what is causing this epidemic. Deenie is struggling more than any, as two of her best friends have been stricken and she doesn't know if she's next, or if she's simply a carrier of something that has made her friends ill. Is it some sort of pollution-related illness from the town's lake? Is it a reaction to the HPV vaccines that female students are required by the school system to receive? Or is it something even more sinister?

Megan Abbott follows up her fantastic novel Dare Me with another fantastic depiction of the complicated, sometimes devious minds and behaviors of high school girls. The Fever is quite as mean-girl-filled as Abbott's previous book, but her characters are really well drawn, and I was compelled to keep reading in order to try and figure out what was causing these girls to fall ill. She did a great job of capturing the building hysteria of a community that wants answers and is willing to sacrifice anyone that stands in their way to get them.

More than that, this is a book about secrets, about the things we don't feel comfortable telling our family and friends. It's a book about the anxieties of being a teenager, both for girls and guys, and the anxieties of parenting, the struggles that come with knowing you can't always protect your children from the world around them.

This isn't a perfect book—I felt as if the book headed you down one too many blind paths before revealing the cause of the girls' illness, and I felt that Skye's character wasn't drawn as well as the others. But Megan Abbott is a really talented writer, and I enjoyed this book a great deal despite its flaws. Definitely a fascinating read.

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