by Megan Abbott
Expected Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown
Source: I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is no way influenced my opinion.
Format Read In: Advanced Reader’s Copy
View from the Traffic Light:
The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.
The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.
As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.
A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire, The Fever affirms Megan Abbot’s reputation as “one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation”
The Fever doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. Medical thriller? Straight contemporary? A literary look at teenage girls and how we often fear what we don’t understand? Horror? The Fever tries to be a little bit of each of those things at different times, and unfortunately doesn’t really succeed at being any of them.
The beginnings of a pandemic have arrived in this quiet suburban area, and the girls are starting to drop. It starts with a close friend of Deenie’s, the main character, but soon spreads to other girls. None of them are actually dying–not yet, anyway–but they’re having seizures, or bleeding, or showing any number of scary medical ailments. Something’s wrong with the girls, and Deenie can’t help but to feel she’s in the middle of it as those closest to her are the first to exhibit symptoms.
There’s a rhetorical device present in The Fever that I really despise–the introduction info-dump. I’ve found this to be quite common in general/literary fiction, but I hate it every time. The introduction info-dump is when the author “swivels” the reader’s focus to a group of characters in the same vicinity and gives you the back story of each of them, pretty much one right after the other(with maybe a little dialogue or action thrown in to mix it up). I knew I would have trouble with The Fever as soon as that cropped up, but I preserved. In it’s defense, I did think the writing of The Fever grew stronger as the book went along, particularly after the first 20%. Once everything was set up, the story and pacing really did pick up, and the mystery began.
As the story continues, several theories crop up about what’s causing the girls to get sick. These are:
1. The HIV vaccine most of the girls received at school
2. Some bacteria from the town’s nasty lake that some of the girls went swimming in
3. Something of a more horrific nature, never quite discussed but that is creeping up in everyone’s head
The good chunk of The Fever is the townspeople, teachers, and parents going back and forth between these three possibilities, and I have to say, it makes for a rather boring read after the initial mystery wears off. None of the possible red herrings offered ever seemed believable. I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the explanations in different parts and thinking, “Okay, come on, let’s get the real reason.” I think The Fever could have been much stronger without this middle chunk all together, really. It doesn’t add anything to the story or offer any real reasons for the pandemic that a normal reader would buy.
The characters in The Fever felt slippery, like they never quite got their characterization fully. One reason for that may be just the sheer number of characters whose minds we peak into–Deenie, some of the other girls, Deenie’s father, Deenie’s brother, a random teacher. It’s a lot, and so many felt unnecessary. That random teacher’s point of view? Didn’t add anything to the story. In fact, I would say most of the teenage girls sounded exactly the same(which, despite what pop culture might tell us, is not true at all), and had rather indistinguishable voices. The exception to that was Deenie, fortunately, since she’s the main character.
As the real reason for this plaguing sickness becomes more apparent, The Fever draws the reader into this inner world of teenage girls. It tries so hard to say things about coming of age, the way we treat teenage girls, and the way we teach them to act, but it never gets anywhere close. Throughout the book, we see flashbacks to the girls talking about boys and sex in an attempt to contrast their self-discoveries with the mysterious fever that’s plaguing them. All the scenes felt forced to me, not at all a good reflection of teenager girls and discovery. Not to mention, the discovery aspect just didn’t work contrasted next to the almost-maybe-not-really-medical-thriller plot. The end result was a haphazard jumble that left me playing the “What is this book trying to be?” guessing game.
The Fever is an ambitious book, and that may have been it’s downfall for me personally. I can see this book finding an audience, but I thought it was trying too hard to be too many things, and the unnecessary point-of-view switches and the apathy I felt towards the ending landed this one a solid 2/5 cupcakes.