August 3, 2012 by Heidi
Title: 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!
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.