The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hocky star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.
As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.
A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire, THE FEVER affirms Megan Abbot’s reputation as “one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation.” (Laura Lippman) – Synopsis from Goodreads
What is it to be a girl?
This is a question Megan Abbott explores in the darkly hypnotic novel, The Fever, distilling the experience of being a teenage girl into potent, unsettling form. While the writing is languid, hazy, there’s an almost fever-dream intensity to this story, a palpable anxiety leaching from the scenes as Abbott examines the fervour and cruelty girls are capable of. As the fear of contagion blooms into hysteria, the novel addresses the parallel fear society often levels at girls, and the cultural apprehension surrounding the mythos and lore of the Teenage Girl.
The Fever presents this uneasiness from several vantage points. From within, through Deenie, we experience the shifting of allegiances, the intricacies of friendships, the exoticism of “otherness”. The tangle of resentment and desire. Deenie is both a participant and an observer of the panic that sweeps the community; at once afraid and an object of fear. Her position in her group of friends is similarly complex: as she contemplates her closeness with Lise and Gabby, she also questions it, aware of a shifting dynamic and new tensions at play.
From outside, for Deenie’s brother Eli, teenage girlhood is shrouded in mystery and full of strange rites. For all his familiarity with girls’ bodies, the complexities of their relationships and personalities take on a cultish secrecy, a language he doesn’t understand. Eli is aware of the changes in his sister, but is reluctant to acknowledge them. For Eli, her transition is something unknowable and murky, complicated by the presence of her friends and their own transformations.
And Tom Nash, Deenie’s father, for whom Deenie is fragile and precious and drifting further and further away from him. Tom wants to protect Deenie, and yet is aware that it’s impossible to do so indefinitely.
“What happens when someone touches her someday and doesn’t understand these things about her? That she was both fearless and fragile and could be hurt badly in ways he could not fix.”
While The Fever revolves around the mysterious illness – provoking seizures and hallucinations in teenage girls – it deals with burgeoning sexuality and small town politics, the social hierarchy of high school and the wounds inflicted by abuse, neglect, divorce. It’s a razor sharp portrayal of a community tearing apart in paranoia and blame. It handles adolescence, in all of its beauty and ugliness: the headiness and mess of it, the shame and fear projected on female bodies and sexuality.
“You spend a long time waiting for life to start – the past year or two filled with all these firsts, everything new and terrifying and significant – and then it does start and you realise it isn’t what you’d expected, or asked for.”
The Fever is a mesmerizing, grotesque novel; a chilling mystery with a dark heart. Recommended.
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Expected Publication Date: 17 June 2014
A copy of this novel was provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.