You are there! Fever 1793

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson; published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2000; 243 pages.

Mattie Cook has plans: She’s going to own a city block with a restaurant, a coffee house and a store full of Parisian finery.  Sounds like a typical, American 14 year old, who wants to make it big.  The difference in this story is that Mattie Cook lives in Philadelphia during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793.  At first, we find Mattie a little lazy and hounded by a sweet tooth.  As the story progresses, and the fever spreads, we find out just how strong and determined the teen is.  She courageously leads us, gentle readers, through the horrors that plagued the town.  She also discovers, and shows us, just how unselfish people can be.  By the story’s end, Mattie is running the show and is fully prepared to do so.

I think Laurie Halse Anderson is at her best writing historical fiction.  Sure, she focuses on what teenagers are like in any era.  Her forte, in my humble opinion, is placing her readers in the period by using some of the jargon, but not enough to make reading tortuous; and placing the characters in historically accurate settings, surrounded by real people of the time.  I’d recommend any of her historical fiction to language arts teachers to collaborate with social studies curriculum.  The author’s notes at the end of the book, highlighting the factual information that’s included in the book as well as the information the author used as background for writing the story, add another element for using this book in collaboration with nonfiction curriculum.

I think having read Jim Murphy’s nonfiction account of the 1793 yellow fever “plague” made this book more interesting for me.  I was already familiar with many of the real characters and events.  For sure, these two books should be recommended as a fiction-nonfiction set to young readers.

Overall, middle schoolers will relate to Mattie.  They’ll even like her, root for her.  In the end, they’ll learn a little American history, too.  Like, did you know Philadelphia was the U.S. capital?  Seriously?!

3P     4Q     Grade Level: 5-9

Cover art: A yellow tinge to the cover art (and definite yellow eyeball) along with the old-fashioned titular font tell browsers what the book is about.  Also, using a face in some slightly obscure way makes this scream that it’s by Halse Anderson!  Her fans will certainly be able to pick this book out!

From Reading List: Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA), 2001; Margaret A. Edwards Award, 2009; The Way It Was (Historical Fiction)


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