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Onyx reviews: The Fever by Megan
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 01/26/2014
Megan Abbot dips back into the lives of teenagers, mostly girls, in her
follow-up to Dare Me. Her protagonists are
members of the Nash family, which includes single father Tom, who teaches
chemistry at the high school, son Eli, a handsome hockey player, and daughter
Deenie, who is part of the clique of popular girls at Dryden High.
wastes no time: The inciting incident happens in the opening pages. One of
Deenie's friends, Lise Daniels, experiences what seems to be a grand mal seizure
during algebra class and is swept away to the hospital, where her condition
worsens. She spends a great deal of the book in a coma. At first it seems like
an isolated incident, but then another of Deenie's friends, Gabby Bishop, takes
sick onstage during an orchestra recital. Video and cell phone photos of these
incidents quickly spread. Then other students follow suit, exhibiting a variety
of mysterious symptoms.
In a sense, this brief novel is a mystery,
concerning the cause of the spreading disease. Parents are quick to latch onto
anything as an explanation. The first suspect is the HPV inoculations all the
girls have been getting as part of a mandated immunization program. There has
been enough controversy surrounding vaccinations to get people riled up. When
that is eliminated, the next likely candidate is the polluted lake that has been
barricaded off from public access. What if the tainted water from it has leached
into the ground water? As for the school building itself, there is no end of
possible toxic sources, but none of these explains the diseases selectiveness.
Only teenage girls are afflicted. Not the boys, and not the faculty.
Deenie, which puts her at the center of the investigation. The girls have
secrets. Mostly from their parents, but also from each other. Some involve
teenage crushes, or sex. The girls also took an ill-advised dip in the lake
recently. But the question remains: why is Deenie okay, and not her friends?
Abbott was inspired by a real event in Le Roy, NY in 2011, The Fever also
owes something to Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Abbott's novel isn't
about witchcraft, although there is one fey member of Deenie's inner circle who
practices mysticism and discusses aethereal matters that none of the others
really understand, but the hysteria surrounding this crisis is much the same.
story is reflected through the eyes of the three Nashes. The family was broken
up when Deenie's mother's infidelity was exposed and she moved to a neighboring
community. Her relationship with her mother has been strained ever since, and
she's at an awkward phase with her father as well. Tom Nash, who has been
teaching for many years, understands the phases of teenage girls, but he feels
ill-equipped to bring one into adulthood and release her into the wild world,
where any manner of dangers lurk. Neither is he sure what to do about his status
as a suddenly single man. He goes on dates and flirts with co-workers
(especially the sexy French teacher), but his focus is on his two kids, and also
on trying to be a voice of reason during parent-teacher meetings when emotions
run high and common sense is in short supply. He's not a perfect father, as
demonstrated by an altercation he had with his ex-wife's lover, but his heart is
in the right place.
The Fever is a carefully observed novel of life in
a somewhat insular small town, where everyone knows more than they need to about
everyone else. Everyone knows the details of Gabby's father's attack on her
mother with a claw hammer, for example. So, when Lise's mother keeps people away
from her ill daughter and refuses to discuss her condition, the residents of
Dryden feel shortchanged. Text messages and phone calls fly back and forth. As
the emergency room grows more crowded with sickly teens and no organic reason
can be found for their conditions, the girls turn to YouTube, posting videos
that demonstrate palsies and twitches. Media descend upon the town, along with
the Department of Health and, most mysteriously, the police.
School officials try to keep things together, but their students take off on so
many unauthorized excursions that it seems a miracle that there's anyone in
class at any given time. There is no central repository of reliable information,
only uncertainty, suspicion, over-reacting and conclusion-leaping.
Like a good
mystery, the clues are all there for the reader to put together, but only in
retrospect because, like a good mystery writer, Abbott cloaks them with red
herrings and whips the story into a frenzy. Ultimately it's a tragic story
because some otherwise good people do bad things, primarily because of raging
hormones and overwhelming emotions. The revelations of the final chapters may
invite readers to go back to the beginning to re-investigate the scenes of the
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