Book Review:  Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is not my first review of an Anderson book—I am obviously a fan. I’d say this is a good early YA/advanced middle grade reader. I had purchased it back when I read Chains, also about the early American time period, then shelved it for other things. I saw it while cleaning off a shelf to prepare for pandemic work-from-home and realized how timely the novel is.

It takes place during the summer of 1793 in Philadelphia. The protagonist, a young woman named Mattie, helps run the family coffee shop. She resents her family’s limited vision for the business, and she also resents her mother’s attempts to arrange a practical marriage for her.

Soon, that all becomes moot, as yellow fever breaks out. It’s clear the people in 1793 did not fully understand yellow fever (a quick Google search told me it wasn’t understood to be carried by mosquitoes until over 100 years later). The people did understand that the frost would kill the fever, and it becomes everyone’s goal to survive until the second hard frost.

Mattie is caught up in the fever-related paranoia that has become all too familiar to us recently with COVID. Besides a lack of understanding about how to treat the disease (some doctors were still bleeding people, making their recovery much more difficult), there are other similarities. In Philadelphia, food shortages became a common problem for survivors. Worse for Mattie, with so many people fleeing to the country and/or dying from yellow fever, break-ins became common.

I admire Mattie for being a “strong woman,” though I in some ways resent that term. All women are strong. But for so long, women in stories and life were not portrayed that way. Mattie goes against norms and perceptions. She is realistic in that she does need help from time to time, but she is not helpless. I especially admire her actions when she comes across a young orphan and has sympathy, unlike most of the adults she encounters.

This is a fast read—very plot-based—that I am putting on my daughter’s bookshelf for when she is just a bit older. My next read by Anderson will be Forge, the sequel to Chains.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.