I don’t normally start reviews with being so blunt, but I must say, that I absolutely loved The Fever by Megan Abbott. Honestly, I was addicted and it was a whirlwind of a novel that tossed me out of a recent slump with novels TBR.
The novel is bundled together between the three distinct narratives of the Nash family–Deenie, her older brother Eli, and their father, Tom, who is also a teacher at their high school. Although, each of the three has their own third person sections, I find myself rallying behind Deenie as the main character; we’re with her the most. Her brother Eli is a handsome hockey player for the high school team and so irresistible to the girls at the school that all he really needs to do to get their attention is wake up in the morning (if that).
In the small town of Dryden, Deenie is a sophomore who is dealing with what high schoolers deal with–old friends, new friends, nemeses, that weird and uncomfortable liminal space between being a kid and being an adult (although, as someone counted amongst adults myself, I rarely feel like a grown up!). The opening chapter is strange and uncomfortable. The girls are waiting for some mysterious procedure that doesn’t become clear until later in the book when everyone is in a state of panic.
One morning at school, Deenie’s best friend Lise begins to have a fit. She seizes and falls out of her desk to the floor, knocking her forehead on the ground before she is taken away to the hospital. It is a frightful sight, one that understandably unnerves Deenie and as Lise remains unconscious in the hospital, everyone is trying to uncover what caused it. But then something odd begins to happen. Other girls in the school begin to have similar fits filled with jerking head motions and then their entire bodies seizing before being carted off to the hospital. The small town is in a panic and with every new day, unsubstantiated culprits are fingered–the HPV vaccine, environmental factors, drugs, contagious disease. When common threads are found, something is right there to devalue the theories.
Right from the start, the story rushes forward. The sentences are clipped and urgent making the reader feel completely off-kilter just like the characters. Mysteries are held back and often purposefully muddled with gossip, urban legend, and mass hysteria. Although, told in the third person, Deenie’s section, at times, feels like an unreliable narrator in the way that only a partial representation of previous events are being shown until the very end when pertinent revelations are revealed.
One aspect I particularly liked (which is also infuriating) is this modern sense of “I play a doctor on the internet.” Of course, mistakes are made even by the most seasoned of professionals, but I am always terribly baffled by people who think they know better after some light Wikipedia perusing. During a highly tense school meeting with parents and teachers, Abbott writes:
“Tom sighed. There was no use talking epidemiology with Dave Hurwich, who always knew more about law than lawyers, more about cars than mechanics.”
The plot of The Fever felt really familiar and when I did some cursory Googling, Megan Abbott’s author website points to the New York Times article that I remembered reading a few years ago that clearly triggered inspiration. I’d recommend that those who didn’t read all the news articles about the school in upstate New York should avoid doing so till finishing the novel. I think it would be an even more mysterious tale.
The Fever will be released on June 17 by Little, Brown and Company, which is part of the Hachette Book Group. If you haven’t read about it already, Hachette and Amazon are currently battling, so the availability of many titles are in limbo on Amazon’s site. If you aren’t able to get a copy from your local bookstore, it can be ordered through Book Depository.