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Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Reading My LibraryBack last month, Carrie of Reading to Know had the crazy brilliant idea to read every picture book in her public library and her new blog, Reading My Library, was born. This actually sounds like a lot of fun to me, but since I’m pretty sure that when it’s all said and done, I will have done that  eventually, though not in any organized way, I decided to give myself a similar challenge.  And so, I begin.

For my first pick, I chose Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793 from the YA shelf, section A.  I chose this book because I have never read anything by Anderson, although I am well aware of her fame in the angst-ridden, problematic world of YA fiction, particularly for her novel Speak (you can read a host of publishing-world reviews here and Semicolon’s review here).  I even brought Speak home from the library not too long ago and gave it a spot on my nightstand, but I just wasn’t in the mood for a trip into the alternate universe of YA novel high school then.  Maybe one day.

Fever 1793?  Ah, now that’s an entirely different story.  Historical fiction is my first love; it’s the genre I really fell in love with as a young adult myself.  I found this novel refreshing and optimistic, despite its YA designation.   (A side note:  I’m really not down on YA novels–I usually like them, in fact.  By their very nature, though, they do tend to be darker and more “realistic” than children’s literature.  I’m really surprised that my library has this one marked YA, though.)  It’s the story of Mattie Cook, the fourteen year old daughter of a coffee house owner in 1793 Philadelphia.  Mattie lives with her mother and her grandfather who moved in with them upon his father’s tragic and untimely death.  Mattie helps her mother run the coffee house, all the while dreaming of how she can escape her mundane life and travel to exciting places like Paris.  Mattie’s mother is sharp-tongued and rather bitter about her lot in life, but she loves Mattie.  Grandfather, on the other hand, dotes on Mattie, regaling her with stories of his time in Washington’s army.  He softens the verbal and emotional blows dealt her by her mother. All of their lives, of course, change unimaginably with the outbreak of Yellow Fever in the summer of 1793.  Mattie learns through a long, heart-wrenching series of events that she is more of a woman than a girl.  Fever 1793 is both a snapshot of life in Philadelphia in 1793 at the height of the Yellow Fever epidemic that killed approximately 10% of the population and a beautiful coming of age story. 

Fever 1793 reminds me of Karen Cushman’s novels in its ability to transport its reader into the historical place about which it is written.  (You can consider that statement a rousing recommendation of both this novel and Ms. Cushman’s.)  Readers interested in aspects of post-colonial (what would be the correct term here?) life as well as the role of Free Africans in this time period would find this novel interesting.

While I was formatting my Amazon Associates link for Fever 1793, I saw this book: An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, a Newbery Honor book from 2004.  Has anyone read it?  It looks like it might make a great companion to Fever 1793.

Now, on to the Bs!  🙂

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8 Responses

  1. This sounds interesting. Why were you surprised at the YA designation? Did it seem older, or younger? (Just wondering if it has potential as a read-aloud when we reach this period of history…?)

    • I really meant to go back and revise this review a little, Janet, but I didn’t have time before it was published. It is a YA novel in that the protagonist is a teen and it IS a coming of age story. There is even a little romance, very sweetly presented, with the promise of a marriage several years in the future. However, it completely lacks the darkness/angst that marks much of YA literature, perhaps because it is set in a different century from ours. Mattie prays to God and faith is presented very positively. I would not hesitate to read this one to a pre-teen or a mid- to upper-elementary aged student. I would categorize this one as a work of historical fiction first, YA second.

      • I should point out, too, that several people die in this story (duh!), so beware if you deal with such sensitivities.

  2. YOu might find this review of both of the books you mentioned helpful:

    http://www.semicolonblog.com/?p=1908

  3. I really want to read this. It looks good!

  4. This looks like a book I would enjoy. I haven’t read a historical fiction lately. Looks like I’m adding another book to the TBR list. Thanks, I think.

  5. That book sounds rather cool and interesting! Thanks again for the link up and I love hearing about YOUR challenge. (I just re-read your original challenge and saw Steady Eddie’s comment. Chuckling away…)

  6. […] SuziQoregon (Ruined)2. SuziQoregon (Honeymoon)3. Amy @ Hope Is the Word (Fever 1793)4. Amy @ Hope Is the Word (The Apple-Pip Princess)5. DHM , Clyde Robert Bulla6. DHM , The Science of […]

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