Dryden’s small town high school is a normal place until Lise Daniels has a mysterious seizure in class. And panic takes over when other girls become ill, with alarming and bizarre symptoms. Doctors are stumped, parents are in a frenzy and, within the dark and secret teenage culture, Lise’s girlfriends wonder who will be next.
Parents point to the HPV vaccine recently given to all the girls and others think it could be toxins in the school or in the closed-off lake in town, thick with strange foam and algae. But maybe its cause is something entirely different. Whatever it is, the media jumps in with all the angles and it’s not long before the police get involved.
The Fever is Megan Abbott’s 2014 modern story about complicated adolescence and sexuality, broken families, false friendships and jealousy. The story’s central figures are chemistry teacher Tom Nash and his high school children, hockey star Eli and Lise’s best friend, Deenie. News travels at the lightning speed of texts and uploaded YouTube videos, adding fever to the frightening illnesses. As the investigation continues, the reader learns about the dynamics of Deenie’s friendship with Lise, Gabby Bishop and the weirdly frightening Skye Osbourne, Gabby’s new free-spirited friend with vintage skirts and bangles on her thin arms.
Abbott does a great job portraying the girls in a contrasting light, initially as clingy and giggly schoolgirls, dressed in brightly colored tights and neon sneakers, but also as teenagers obsessed with intense friendships and lost virginity. Unexplained events and characters add a paranormal layer to this already mysterious story. I also like how she integrates the town and its dreary environment into the mood of the story, one of my favorite types of storytelling.
The Fever is a quick and dark read, with a mildly compelling plot and somewhat forgettable characters, but it is otherwise entertaining. I recommend it to anyone who likes stories about teenagers and their secret lives.
And if you like to read about the scary lives of teenagers, you may like Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight.
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