I’ve only recently become a fan of Megan Abbott’s writing. The first book I read by her really blew me away, so when her latest book, The Fever, was released last month, I picked it up right away, anxious to read it.
The Fever is narrated in alternating chapters by three main characters: Deenie, a high school girl; Eli, her hockey star older brother; and their father Tom, a science teacher at their high school. When Deenie’s best friend Lise suffers an unsuspecting and, frankly, terrifying seizure-like fit in the middle of class one morning, the entire school erupts with gossip and the kind of excited drama only teenagers can muster. Lise’s incident, which landed her unconscious and in the hospital ICU, spooks everyone, but they all have faith that it’ll be explained away soon enough and she’ll recover as though nothing happened. But when three more of Deenie’s female classmates (two of which are her other best friends) also experience violent seizures at school, the entire town goes into a chaotic panic over what might be causing this mysterious illness amongst its young girls.
Through the alternating narrative, we learn that the town is home to a forbidden lake that is contaminated with who-knows-what, as well as that the high school girls had all been given mandatory HPV vaccinations the previous week. The speculation on the cause of the seizures split the town into two groups: those who believed it had something to do with the lake, and those who believed the vaccine was the culprit. Deenie in particular is overrun with fear and confusion by what’s happened to her friends, and she sets out to figure out just what exactly is happening to them and if she can stop it from happening to her too.
Because the two main theories were that either the lake or the vaccine were to blame, I knew they were obvious red herrings. And while I was slightly let down by the big revelation of what really caused the bizarre fits among the girls, I can honestly say I never saw it coming. Technically, there were two causes – the one that afflicted Lise, and the one that afflicted the three girls afterward. The secondary reason was something I’d never heard of before, but have since been reading up on out of an instant fascination. Okay, that’s it, that’s all I can say!
So here’s what I thought about The Fever, and I’ll start with the positive. Megan Abbott, without fail, writes teenage girls impeccably. She holds back nothing, and the abrasive realities of life as a teenage girl is something she doesn’t dress up or put a bow on. I’d imagine a lot of her prose might make her male readers pretty uncomfortable. Another thing Megan Abbott is impeccable at – descriptions. She’s not overly descriptive, but when she does describe things, they are accurate and gorgeously vivid. What she does is, she points out things you’d surely notice in your every day life, but that you’d no doubt take for granted. So, when you read them in a book, you just kind of have to take a moment to nod your head appreciatively and think to yourself, “yes, that’s exactly it! How did she do that?!” It’s something I absolutely love to come across while reading fiction.
Now, unfortunately there were some things I took issue with in The Fever. For starters, I’d have preferred if Deenie was the sole narrator. I feel like the story as a whole would’ve had less filler than it did, and I think the huge gap between the red herrings and the truth would’ve made more sense. There was a definite reason why Eli was one of the narrators, but after having finished the book, I’m sure I could’ve grasped his subplot just fine without actually having him at the forefront as much as he was. Aside from that, I found this book to be a bit too long, which must sound strange considering it is only 303 pages in length. But I honestly feel that for this story, it would have been a lot better if it was about 100 pages shorter, or a novella.
All in all, I did enjoy The Fever by Megan Abbott, despite my criticisms. The plot itself was really unique and captivating. The writing was downright fantastic. But its execution was just slightly off. I’d most definitely recommend this book to those who love to read, but I would highly suggest reading one of Megan’s other books first if you haven’t already.