Book Summary: Mattie lives with her mother, grandfather, and their cook Eliza. Things seem to be ordinary and normal until a family friend drops dead of a fever. The town is then overrun with instances of people passing out or dropping dead of this fever. In a very short amount of time, the Yellow Fever has managed to not only impact the number of people in the town, but has turned neighbors against each other. Mattie’s mother ends up ill, and she is forced to leave home with her grandfather. Mattie eventually finds herself ill, but survives. Upon returning home much later with her grandfather, she worries about her mom after not finding her waiting at home, and a local boy she grew up with named Nathaniel. Her grandfather unexpectedly dies and she is forced to move on and attempts to find her mother or her cook Eliza. She is thankfully reunited with the latter and picks up a child along the way. In the end, Mattie makes it back home and has changed greatly once she is reunited with her mother.
APA Reference of Book: Anderson, L. H. (2000). Fever 1793. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Impressions: This book was incredibly intense. I found myself wanting things to work out for Mattie. Every single time something started to look up for her, another misfortune happened. I expected the grandfather to die sooner, and was genuinely shocked by when and how he died. Everything Mattie endures is amazing and the writing left me turning the pages quickly to find out if she survives or if she’ll ever find her mother. I enjoyed the writing style, as it allowed me to become engrossed in what was happening to Mattie. The pacing was very quick, but the author still remained descriptive and it did not feel as though the story was going by too fast with not enough time for the reader to recover from the previous events. I enjoyed the inclusion of Eliza as more than just the family’s cook, and I was glad that Mattie was able to be reunited with her again. I found the instance of Mattie coming across the little girl and becoming her mother representative of how much growing up she’d done since the start of the novel, and her maturity level.
Professional Review: “The opening scene of Anderson’s ambitious novel about the yellow fever epidemic that ravaged Philadelphia in the late 18th century shows a hint of the gallows humor and insight of her previous novel, Speak. Sixteen-year-old Matilda “”Mattie”” Cook awakens in the sweltering summer heat on August 16th, 1793, to her mother’s command to rouse and with a mosquito buzzing in her ear. She shoos her cat from her mother’s favorite quilt and thinks to herself, “”I had just saved her precious quilt from disaster, but would she appreciate it? Of course not.”” Mattie’s wit again shines through several chapters later during a visit to her wealthy neighbors’ house, the Ogilvies. Having refused to let their serving girl, Eliza, coif her for the occasion, Mattie regrets it as soon as she lays eyes on the Ogilvie sisters, who wear matching bombazine gowns, curly hair piled high on their heads (“”I should have let Eliza curl my hair. Dash it all””). But thereafter, Mattie’s character development, as well as those of her grandfather and widowed mother, takes a back seat to the historical details of Philadelphia and environs. Extremely well researched, Anderson’s novel paints a vivid picture of the seedy waterfront, the devastation the disease wreaks on a once thriving city, and the bitterness of neighbor toward neighbor as those suspected of infection are physically cast aside. However, these larger scale views take precedence over the kind of intimate scenes that Anderson crafted so masterfully in Speak. Scenes of historical significance, such as George Washington returning to Philadelphia, then the nation’s capital, to signify the end of the epidemic are delivered with more impact than scenes of great personal significance to Mattie. Ages 10-14. (Sept.)”– Publisher’s Weekly
Fever 1793 [Review of the book Fever 1793. (2000, September 4). Publisher’s Weekly. Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-689-83858-3
Library Uses: This would be a great selection for a book talk involving books about characters forced to grow up.