The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Haunted Bookclub - The Fever

Hardcover Honey's Haunted Bookclub - The Fever

Book of the Week Review by Jocelyn

The Fever – Megan Abbott 

I firmly believe Megan Abbott and I would have been best friends in high school – or mortal enemies.  No other author working today seems to really understand that period of life like she does.  Coming off of a long career as a dark crime/noir novelist, she has focused her energies lately on books about that darkest of creatures – the pack of teenaged girls – starting with “The End of Everything” and leading up to “The Fever”.  It's a natural transition, really, from the molls and dames she has written in the past, and a welcome transition at that – nobody I know of captures that feeling of constant dread and energy, that low thrum of anxiety and evil that comes along with being a girl in high school.  Of all the many books I have read featuring teenaged girls, Abbott's own terrific “Dare Me” among them, none has reminded me so much of being a teenage girl as this summer's “The Fever”.  

Despite that incredible cover image, “The Fever” isn't really a supernatural thriller.  But thrilling it is, as it immerses you in the rainy fairy-tale town of Dryden and the Nash family – junior Deenie, her older brother hockey star and senior Eli, and their single dad, Tom, who teaches at the school and is doing his best to understand his kids and their complicated new relationships with their peers.  All of this is hard enough without a mysterious illness that kicks off the book in dramatic form.  First to fall is  one of Deenie's best friends, Lise, a boy-crazy late bloomer who garners lots of attention from the boys at school.  Lise is described in spare but evocative language - “No guy had ever looked at Lise until suddenly they all did” and further detailed “...set off something among the other boys, and a fever in Lise, who suddenly decided that all boys, were a-mazing, every one”.  When Lise suffers an unexplained seizure in class and winds up in a coma, explanations are few and theories are many – was it the HPV vaccination that so many of the girls underwent recently?  Toxic shock?  The Pill?  Was it something in the mysterious lake that swimming is forbidden in, where algae blooms thick and green and stories of a drowned child provide the locals with their own urban legend?  Why does it only seem to be affecting girls without mothers at home?  Could it be something even more sinister than these answers? 

Author: Megan Abbott
Deenie is alarmed, and rightfully so, as it quickly becomes clear that she too has undergone the HPV vaccine, engaged in illicit swimming in the lake recently with Lise and two other girls, third-leg-of-the-tripod Gabby and more recent addition Skye, who is close to Gabby but not the other two girls, and whose swirling hair and Stevie Nicks ensembles seem to hide so much of her true self.  In addition to the vaccine and the night-swimming, Deenie has also engaged in the classic teenage girl move of losing her virginity to a local lunk who works at the pizza parlor with her – always a smart move, clearly.  As Deenie, Gabby, and Skye discuss Lise's seizure, they are joined by a younger girl, hanger-on Kim Court, who longs to do everything that Gabby does in order to be accepted.  When Gabby suffers a similar seizure during a school concert, she is quicker to recover than Lise, but panic still spreads throughout the school and the community.  When Kim is next to fall to the mysterious illness and issues secretive YouTube videos while in the hospital, things get even murkier – due to her extensive allergies, you see, Kim has never had the HPV shot, and thus the most likely explanation is eliminated, just like that, and the panic is free to spread like wildfire as parents demand answers from an overburdened district and health department officials roam the school trying to pin down the cause of this horrific fever that is striking only the girls.

Whenever I finish I book I loved (including this one), I like to check Goodreads and see how my experience lined up with others – in this case, I found myself blinking incredulously at some of the lower-rated reviews – some of the readers wanted an easy supernatural event tying things together and Abbott doesn't deliver that – but what she does deliver is a walk through something scarier than some spook in the woods or some previously unseen disease – she delivers a walk through the world of being a teenaged girl in this day and age, with Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, texts and YouTube and horribly misguided HobbyLobby Supreme Court decisions and #yesallwomen and all of it.  It made me stay up late turning pages, shaking my head at how the world treats their future women, practically crying with gratitude that I don't have to do it again and that I don't have a daughter I have to navigate through all this shit.  

Note - The Horror Honeys are hoping to host Megan Abbott on a podcast soon to discuss The Fever and Dare Me – I can't wait to hear about her own high school experience and how it has shaped the kick-ass woman she clearly is today.

Hardcover Honey's verdict: 5 out of 5 nasty rumors for this engrossing novel