I started my mornings with Megan Abbott’s The Fever. Now I know it’s hard to compete with coffee and the instant, gratifying caffeine boost it gives you, but I really didn’t need it. This book caffeinated my interest right away, describing in the first few pages what I thought could only exist in science-fiction horror via alien insemination. It really makes you guess and stimulates your brain.
The Fever probes the lives of high school girls, mean girls. When one of their own suddenly collapses in the middle of class and starts to convulse and froth at the mouth, hysteria snakes its way into the minds of the girls, their parents, and the entire community. Once another girl succumbs to these strange symptoms and is hospitalized, the police and media colonize the town. It doesn’t take long for rumors to spread and theories to surface. Bio terrorism. HPV vaccine conspiracies. STD. The water. It’s the type of book that weaves a bunch of ridiculous and very possible conclusions while continuing to feed you clues and give you an ending that will either leave you reeling or wishing it had been one of the hocus-pocus conclusions; sometimes the truth is more painful to believe.
In several ways, The Fever is like a modern adaptation of The Crucible. Girls. Gossip. Witch-hunt. The Fever studies the psychology of its characters’ sexualities, perversions, intimacies, and the effects of hysteria, which I love, and what makes this book hard to ignore.
The disparity amongst the characters occurs from the varying viewpoints of the Nash family, Deenie (sister), Eli (brother), and Tom (father). The viewpoints argue different theories and opinions of the mysterious illness and provide some insights to the girls. While the narrators give us some history about them, it’s not enough to really know who the girls are, shedding only a few peculiar character traits. Considering the story’s plot, I thought it would take place on a larger scale, but it’s relatively contained to just a few characters. The police, media, and gossipers generate enough dialogue for speculation, but are not noteworthy characters themselves. If you’re looking to read something aimed specifically at the mean girl archetypes, then this won’t scratch your itch. Not entirely.
The story is very much about the girls, their friendships, their budding sexual feelings, sexual maturity, their insecurities, and social pressures. But it also conveys the boys and adults having similar problems too, thus, aligning the characters’ stories and converging themes. It had me contemplating if anyone really grows into being an adult or if we’re all in a perpetual state of adolescence, always changing physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Abbot’s writing beautifully captures the mean girls’ vernacular. The writing details the girls’ sexual curiosity and prowess piquing. The way the strange illness is described and compared to the girls’ hormonal and sexual feelings brings out what I love about this book. The title plays on both the epidemic and the girls’ sexuality. I’m now more than ever itching to read other works by Megan Abbott.
The ending did not disappoint. Not a bit. It ends as it started: ambiguous. It’s one of those endings that didn’t neatly wrap up everyone’s story. I’m relieved not everything is resolved. I personally like stories that don’t answer everything for me, and The Fever still keeps me guessing as to what actually happened, and if we ever truly know anyone, let alone ourselves.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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