Back in July, ElCicco reviewed The Fever by Megan Abbott. I was intrigued. I got it from the library and devoured it on a rainy weekend afternoon. It’s a great and thrilling read, but it’s also a relevant and chilling one, too.
The Nash family lives in Dryden, where they’ve always lived. Dad Tom is a high school science teacher, mom Georgia has left, son Eli is an attractive hockey star at the high school, and daughter Deenie is studious and friend-oriented. The novel opens with the high school girls getting the HPV vaccine, and the scene is set when Deenie’s best friend Lise has a sudden seizure and goes to the hospital. Slowly, girls begin experiencing seizures and unexplained illnesses, leading to accusations of vaccination poisoning. Yet secrets and lies abound, forcing the town to question what it knows about itself–and what its inhabitants know about each other.
I know this is a fictional novel, but Abbott portrays at least two very current issues in ways that are so realistic, they are both painful and poignant to read. One is, of course, the increasingly volatile debate over vaccines. I won’t debate that argument here, but I am becoming increasingly concerned over the number of eradicated diseases that are returning to the United States. The rhetoric surrounding anti-vaccination has honestly worried me, particularly since I *am* allergic to the pertussis vaccine (that means I can’t have the adult TDP booster and have to have a special one made), and am therefore all-too-susceptible to the whooping cough. So, it was a little nerve-wracking to hear this debate so accurately portrayed. While I have personal reservations about the HPV vaccination itself, I do get nervous when parents start citing conspiracy theories in relation to vaccines.
The other, and much more chilling, issue portrayed in the novel is that of mean-girl cliques in high school. Navigating adolescence as a young woman is hell, and even more so if social pressures or enmity arises. And it does, in ways I was not prepared for as a reader. What makes this subplot even more painful is the recent Slenderman attack by two twelve-year-old girls on their “friend.” As a teacher, I am always heartbroken to read of incidents like these.
Honestly, if I was mentoring teachers or teaching a preparation for high school education course, I would teach this novel to provoke discussion about how we identify dangerous friendships, particularly in young women. I am so glad I read this book, and I will definitely seek out more of Megan Abbott’s work.