Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever

The Fever
by Megan Abbott

4 out of 5 tattooed French teachers would read this book.

(I received an ARC from NetGalley for this review.)

The whole time I was reading this I had to fight the urge to walk around imitating Christopher Walken from that famous Saturday Night Live skit.  “I got a FEVER and the only prescription is more Megan Abbott!”

Sorry.  I had to get that out of my system….

Deenie Nash is a pretty typical American teenage girl.  She lives with her school teacher father Tom and her brother Eli.  After her best friend Lise has a seizure in class followed by more girls becoming violently  ill, a wave of hysteria rises which makes all of them examine what they thought they knew about the people around them.

Megan Abbott showed her impressive noir chops in great books like The Song Is You and Queenpin, and in her more recent work (Dare Me) she’s been illustrating how the inner lives and social circles of teenage girls can be a darker and scarier topic than mob-owned night clubs or the seamier  side of Hollywood.   She’s outdone herself in The Fever by starting with a simple premise of a mysterious illness causing panic, and then using it to touch the variety of things that would come up in any teenage girl’s life.  When Deenie is jealous of her friend Gabbie’s  new relationship with the odd Skye or struggling to understand her adolescent sexual urges or angry at her mother for leaving her father it makes adult reader remember the confused emotionality that goes along with teenagers.

What impressed me even more than her ability to put us inside the head of a teenage girl was how Ms. Abbott also nails the male side of the equation.  Tom is a single dad trying to do his best for his kids but still constantly feels like he’s failing them in one way or another.  Eli is a handsome hockey star who is bewildered by the attention he gets from girls, but that doesn’t stop him from occasionally hooking up with one of them.  Tom and Eli often regard Deenie and her friends as mysterious creatures best observed from some distance.

Another terrific aspect is how authentic the reaction of the community is portrayed. Parents embracing conspiracy theories based on no evidence and pointing fingers at school administrators and government health workers is exactly the kind of irrational and panic-stricken total bat-shit freak-out that would occur.

Mystery illness, paranoia, teenage angst, high school politics, sex, divorce, environmental issues, social media gossip……  This book has something for everyone and proves once again that if you aren’t reading Megan Abbott, you should be.

Also posted at Goodreads.

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