The Statesman Selects Pick for June:
The Fever by Megan Abbott
~reviewed by Molly
The Fever, Megan Abbott’s latest exploration into the dangerous lives of adolescent girls, depicts mass hysteria in a small town, as popular teenagers begin falling ill from indeterminate causes. At the center of this drama is Deenie, shy, uncertain, ridden with guilt and determined to find the cause of the mysterious plague. On the sidelines, Deenie’s brother and father worry for her health and interpret the situation as best they can.
What could be causing this mysterious illness? The theories are numerous as to the cause of the girls’ condition, and each has its root in a different paranoia of modern-day society. Some suspect vaccines to be at fault. Other theories include pollution, sexually transmitted diseases, and perhaps even biblical retribution. Abbott plays games with mixing all these fears together. When girls discuss receiving the vaccine, the reader might mistake their conversation to be about having sex for the first time. Parents condemn the school for requiring the HPV vaccine in one moment and speculate about the possible sexual origin of their daughters’ illnesses the next.
Fears of vaccines, teenage sexuality, chemical toxicity, and the power of conformity are all contemporary concerns. The book draws much of its inspiration from a real life case of mysterious teenage illness in a New York City suburb. As the town begins to suspect a contagion with no identifiable origin, the CDC intervenes, and their concern becomes futuristic.
The Fever also taps into something much older. In many ways, The Fever reads like a retelling of the Salem Witch Trials, if the accusations of delusional teenagers had led to a thoughtful investigation as well as a mass hysteria. Abbott’s characters use YouTube instead of the pulpit to bring attention to their bizarre sufferings. Some of the characters dabble in mysticism, but all believe in modern science. The convulsions, seizures and accusations, however, fit right in with sixteenth-century style madness, and at the end of Abbott’s novel, we are left with the sense that when it comes to those most intimate connections in our lives – friendship, family, a crush – very little changes over time.
Megan Abbott will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Thursday, June 26th at 7PM, and will be joined by Alison Gaylin! You can pre-order signed copies of The Fever now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.