Megan Abbott has a habit of flipping the life of the American adolescent over and exposing the darkest of underbellies. The Fever (May 2015) is no exception.
In this novel, the lives of several sixteen-year-old girls who live in the same town and attend the same high school are turned upside down over a mysterious seizure-causing ailment that has affected them. With a sudden onset inspiring panic, the fever claims its first victim, a lovely girl named Lise. Following her are several more girls in rapid succession as the town’s hysteria grows and several theories as to the cause are taken up in arms by the town’s various citizens, mainly the concerned parents of the affected girls. Since the affliction is only affecting high school girls, several experts are brought in to try to find the common theme among them. As the many straws are grasped, emotions are heightened and nerves are frayed and the grim realization settles over parents of what little control they have in keeping their children safe from harm.
Hot button issues are offered up as viable theories in this groundbreaking novel, such as vaccine safety, exposure to environmental toxins, and a phenomenon called mass psychogenic illness (which is thought to be a group response to stress or emotional distress). Remaining true to Abbott’s past novels, the reader seeks reassurance from the one parent we most identify with, the one with the coolest head who seeks to logically make sense of the chaos. In this story, it is a man named Tom Nash, the divorced high school chemistry teacher and father of Lise’s closest friend.
As the fever takes hold of this quiet town, the secret lives of these teenage girls are slowly revealed to expose a set of lies and betrayal that become more potent as time goes by.
Based on the true story of a mysterious tic like illness befalling over a dozen students in the upstate New York town of Le Roy, The Fever is a dark and psychological thrill ride showcasing some of today’s most relevant issues. Abbott’s prose is delivered in concise chapters broken up into delineated blocks that really pack a punch and heighten urgency. It is a fast, seductive, and thoroughly enjoyable read.
Reviewed by Maria Ryan
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