Audio Review: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

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August 3, 2012 by Heidi

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse AndersonTitle: Fever 1793 [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Published: April 24th, 2007 by Listening Library (first published September 1st, 2000 by Simon and Schuster)
Format: Audiobook; 5 hrs, 46 min.
Read by Emily Bergl.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.

It’s late summer 1793, and the streets of Philadelphia are abuzz with mosquitoes and rumors of fever. Down near the docks, many have taken ill, and the fatalities are mounting. Now they include Polly, the serving girl at the Cook Coffeehouse.

But fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook doesn’t get a moment to mourn the passing of her childhood playmate. New customers have overrun her family’s coffee shop, located far from the mosquito-infested river, and Mattie’s concerns of fever are all but overshadowed by dreams of growing her family’s small business into a thriving enterprise. But when the fever begins to strike closer to home, Mattie’s struggle to build a new life must give way to a new fight-the fight to stay alive.

I’ve been on somewhat of a historical fiction kick lately, and since I’ve been wanting to check out some by Laurie Halse Anderson (I’ve only read Speak previously), I zeroed in on her.  I was debating between Fever 1793 and Chains.  I spent the time that my parents visited loading up on Revolutionary War history as we gallivanted around Philadelphia and visited Valley Forge.  I actually found a copy of Forge in the Valley Forge gift shop, and had to sit there and pet the cover a bit, but reminded myself I needed to read Chains first.  And yet, I chose to listen to Fever 1793 instead.  I was interested because it took place in Philadelphia, during one of the worst epidemics this country has ever seen.  Having just explored the city for the first time myself, I was interested in learning more about life in (or shortly after) the foundation of our nation, and liked that I could freshly picture it in my mind.

I did get this from Fever 1793.  I like that she mentions the bells ringing in Christ Church, the various streets and markets, it was quite easy for me to superimpose the images I’d recently seen with my eyes to the Philadelphia portrayed by Laurie Halse Anderson.  I enjoyed the historical aspects of this book, and found learning about the epidemic fascinating, particularly since I honestly wasn’t aware of this event previously.  The epidemic in Philadelphia in 1973 was incredibly destructive, particularly because one of the preferred treatment methods likely killed many people that could have been saved.

I always loved historical fiction growing up, but much of what I read was more western oriented (lots of settlers and Native Americans), since that was what I was familiar with.  Those books that I read taking place in this area and time were largely authored by Ann Rinaldi, or the American Girl Felicity books which I still believe offer an invaluable and unique point of view as Felicity’s family were loyalists–something we don’t often see in Revolutionary era historical fiction.  As such, Fever 1793 wasn’t completely uncharted territory, but was still fairly unique for me.

Historical interest and intricacies aside, the story of Fever 1793 failed to grab me.  I never really felt invested in Mattie’s fate, or the fates of anyone she held dear.  They could have all fallen victim to yellow fever and I would have been unmoved.  Why?  I’m not really sure.  Maybe the historical elements overshadowed the character development a bit, making the situation feel more clinical than emotional.  I did feel that Fever 1793 made a valiant attempt to show the brutal nature of such circumstances.  The reality that neighbor will turn their back upon neighbor, or even family out of fear.  Complete strangers may go to extreme lengths to help others.  It makes you question your own nature, and how you might react in such a situation.  I do think that Emily Bergl’s narration was fine and didn’t’ necessarily detract from the story, but nor do I felt that it added anything.

I believe that had I read Fever 1793 when I was in middle school, I would have enjoyed it significantly more.  As was, I was disappointed that it failed to raise any emotion in me, particularly after the power with which Speak hit me.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:
I am still interested in trying some of Laurie Halse Anderson’s other historical fiction, but will likely go in with much lower expectations than I had for Fever 1793.  Have people had more positive experiences reading Chains?  Or another one of her books?  Please share your thoughts!

Recommended for:
Younger teens/older middle grade readers who enjoy historical fiction, particularly fans of Ann Rinaldi.  Probably equally strong in text as it was on audio.

Get a second opinion:
Kids Reads
Inkweaver Review
A Novel Experience

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15 comments »

  1. Grace says:

    I read this back when I was a freshman in high school and it gave me nightmares about everyone dying of a pandemic. It might be one of those YA novels that works better when you’re in the age group that it’s meant for.

    • Heidi says:

      I agree, I think that this is one that does work better for the intended age group. Many times I can bridge that gap, but here I wasn’t able to. I can certainly see it giving you nightmares though!

  2. I got about halfway through this one before putting it down. Like you said, the story just didn’t grab me and I didn’t care about the characters. I WANTED to like it, as I love historical fiction, but I just didn’t. Another LHA book that I really enjoyed, although not hist. fic., is Wintergirls. I loved that one and recommend it to my students all the time.

    Also thanks for mentioning Felicity and the American Girl books! Now all I want to do is find my old Addie ones and read them! Memories… :)

    • Heidi says:

      I LOVED The American Girl doll books! I think I had all of them (until I got too old) Samantha, Molly, Felicity, Addy and Kirsten. The books were great!

      And yeah, if I’d been reading this I probably would have set it down. As an audio, it kept me listening because it was short and I didn’t really have anything else to listen to at the time. Wintergirls is on my list, so thanks for the recommendation! I’ll certainly be checking it out.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I’m such a weirdo, as this piques my interest simply because it is more about the epidemic than anything else. I am fascinated with the history of medicine and haven’t really read much fiction focusing on that topic (but plenty of academic non-fiction when I was in grad school!). Not sure I’ll check this out since it was a bit of let down, but I might have to track down something similar!

    • Heidi says:

      The medical aspects of this one were great! But yeah, I’d go for some good non fiction or better narrative fiction instead if those are the aspects that most interest you.

  4. I kept thinking I should have read this back in middle school, but I didn’t. I guess it’s a little too late for me to pick this one up now and I’m sorry this one didn’t live up to the brilliance of Speak. I doubt I’d enjoy it much more than you, so thanks for the helpful review, Heidi! I love historical fiction as well though, so if you haven’t read Code Name Verity, I’d definitely recommend that one! :) Anyway, brilliant review as always – thanks for sharing! This one was definitely very helpful to me! :D

    ~Keertana
    Ivy Book Bindings

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks Keertana! Yeah, this is one that just works best for the age group, and from those I’ve talked to who read it older they felt similarly to me. I LOVED Code Name Verity! One of my top reads of the year. =)

  5. I think because I love reading about diseases so much, I may end up just reading this in text rather than audio. I mean, atmosphere is really important to me and sometimes I can let things like connecting to the characters slide.

    Balanced review, yo.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, April! This would be SUPER fast in text since it was only about a 5 hour audio, and the story might work better that way as well!

  6. [...] lowered expectations, or the fact that I was very ‘meh’ about my own previous listen (Fever 1793), but I found myself much more easily drawn in and wrapped up in the story of The Eleventh [...]

  7. I will not allow myself to be embarrassed that I have not yet read anything by this author because I totally plan to, probably sooner rather than later. She is high on my list. Reading this, though – I am not deterred from wanting to read this book. I just think I would rather READ it than listen to it. i think I would have been bored by listening to it. I don’t know that I could do historical fiction audio. (But remember, I’m super new to historical fiction. Like, I’ve read less of it than even contemps.)

    Also, I LOVE reading about plagues and fevers and outbreaks and such. What does that say about me as a person? I’m not entirely sure.

    • Heidi says:

      Hahaha, it’s okay. To me, that sort of thing was always scarier than ghost stories because it was REAL, you know?

      I really recommend Speak, it’s one of those that totally lives up to the hype. I hadn’t read it until I was required to for my YA class in grad school, and I’m so glad that I did.

  8. [...] don’t know if it’s my recent disappointment in Fever 1793, my childhood love of Ann Rinaldi, or my tendency to adore stories about girls who dress as boys, [...]

  9. [...] Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson [...]

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