Book Review: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Book Review: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title: Fever 1793
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Aladdin
Paperback: 272 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

It’s late summer 1793, and the streets of Philadelphia are abuzz with mosquitoes and rumors of fever. Down near the docks, many have taken ill, and the fatalities are mounting. Now they include Polly, the serving girl at the Cook Coffeehouse. But fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook doesn’t get a moment to mourn the passing of her childhood playmate. New customers have overrun her family’s coffee shop, located far from the mosquito-infested river, and Mattie’s concerns of fever are all but overshadowed by dreams of growing her family’s small business into a thriving enterprise. But when the fever begins to strike closer to home, Mattie’s struggle to build a new life must give way to a new fight—the fight to stay alive.

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Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Laurie Halse Anderson is an absolute gem and I will read anything and everything she’s written. On top of that, I enjoy historical fiction that’s well-researched and written in such a way that you can actually learn something about a topic, which most middle grade historical fiction does really well, so Fever 1793 was a must-read for me. I’m so glad I’ve finally gotten to it.

Mattie Cook wants so much to not be treated like a kid and be able to have more free time and more real responsibility, instead of dealing with the tedious chores she’s always given by her mom. She helps her mom and her grandfather run the family coffee shop, but her life is thrown into chaos when a fever starts spreading around Philadelphia and people start dying, moving away, and staying away. The city becomes a ghost town, where only the very sick or dead have decided to stay; there’s hardly any food or fresh water, and thieves prowl the city to steal valuables from abandoned homes.

This book is INTENSE. Anderson picked a subject that really needs no dressing up or melodrama added; it’s a terrifying story about how helpless we are in the face of disasters, and yet hopeful in the way it shows Mattie working together with her neighbors to help out those in need. Mattie shows amazing development and comes into her own; she certainly grows up, though it’s not the way any of her family members imagined. She takes on the responsibility for caring for some of the sick and getting herself through into the winter months when the fever will die off.

Besides the story itself, I really enjoyed the historical tidbits of including how the capital is in Philadelphia at this point, so Mattie dreams of seeing Washington (the president!) in the coffee shop. There’s also some nice touch of romance — just a hint — that adds some dimension to the story. The text itself is very readable and inviting; this would be a great book for middle school, or a nice lower-level reading option for high school students who are given a choice in texts. It’s great because though the text is approachable, there is so much great information and historical fact included, which I love. It’s not “dumbed down” at all.

I can see why this is taught in so many classrooms; it’d be such a great book to read during a unit on American history, studying how disease spreads. It’s incredibly informative and Anderson includes her notes in the back about stuff she researched and stuff she fudged to make it all fit as a cohesive story. I really enjoyed this and recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about the fever of 1793 through an entertaining story, or for someone who just likes historical fiction.

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