Fear, Panic, and Hope: A Review of Fever 1793

In a hot, crowded city, fever spreads rapidly and randomly. One by one, your neighbors fall victim to the sickness. The doctors' remedies are just as painful as the disease itself: doses of stinking herbs, poisonous, tooth-blackening mercury, and blood-letting.  

No one knows how the disease is spread, but panic grips Philadelphia and people shut themselves inside their houses, unwilling to help anyone who looks sick.  Do you escape to the countryside, leaving behind your home, your family's business, your friends...and even your mother who is too ill to make the journey out of the city?

Fever 1793 is a gripping tale of the yellow fever epidemic that decimated Philadelphia in late summer of 1793.  The story is based on true events and features some real figures who lived and worked at this time in the newly-formed United States.  There is even an appendix following the story  that points out which people and events are plucked straight from history.

But reading this book is not at all like reading a history text.  Laurie Halse Anderson weaves a poignant and personal tale that shows us firsthand the painful circumstances and decisions facing brave, fourteen-year-old Mattie.  We get to see the fever through her eyes.  We experience up close the extremes of human behavior that emerge during a crisis -- both the best and the worst of people rising to the surface.

Anderson is a master of creating memorable characters against a backdrop of history, and of letting those characters speak for themselves. With page-turning prose, she paints vivid pictures of important times in history and the everyday people who lived through those times.  She shows us the struggles, triumphs, loves, and losses of characters who jump off the page and into our hearts.  If you thought historical fiction was not for you, think again!  Anderson's books will transport you through time and space, giving you a front row seat for all the action in early America. 

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In addition to Fever 1793, you should try both Chains and Forge, two powerful novels about freedom, set against the backdrop of the American Revolution.  This series depicts the struggles of slaves and former slaves trying to gain real freedom in a nation that is also trying to be free.  It raises deep questions about what freedom means and invites us to celebrate not only heroes such as General Washington, but also average men, women, and teens who fight for what is right.