Now, in class,... it was hard to concentrate, and even harder given the rocking in Lise's chair, her whole desk vibrating.
"Lise," Mrs. Chalmers called out. "You're bothering everyone else."
"It's happening, it's happening," came a low snarl from Lise's delicate pink mouth. "Uh-uh-uh." Her hands flying up, she grabbed her throat, her body jolting to one side.
Then, in one swoop—as if one of the football players had taken his meaty forearm and hurled it—her desk overturned, clattering to the floor. And with it Lise. Her head twisting, slamming into the tiles, her bright red face turned up, mouth teeming with froth.
"Lise," sighed Mrs. Chalmers, too far in front to see. "What is your problem?"
Hysteria is complex. So is high school. In the midst of any crisis, it's hard to tell fact from fiction and right from wrong. Megan Abbott's The Fever shows us what happens when hysteria takes over a northeastern high school.
Deenie Nash's best friend, Lise, is falling and fainting as if she's possessed. The same thing happens to her good friend, Gabby, while she's onstage in a school concert. Deenie remains unaffected physically, but terrified emotionally. Somehow a mysterious virus has grabbed her best friends along with several other girls, but missed her completely.
Deenie's father, who teaches math at the same school that his son and daughter attend, becomes a nervous parent. Has toxicity infiltrated the school? Did a virus come from the lake that everyone's been warned to avoid? Or is this a reaction to the HPV vaccination?
As I read about the girls' tumbling onto the floor, I remembered Abigail's seizures in the courtroom scene of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Abigail claimed specific women "sent out their spirits." Dryden's girls suffer from similar symptoms, but are too sophisticated to label this witchcraft. The girls in The Crucible danced in the woods; the girls in Dryden went into a toxic lake. Both were forbidden activities. Did the toxic lake have the same effect as dancing in the woods?
For that matter, have teenage over-reactions, unsolved mysteries, and need for blame changed since the days of the Salem witchcraft trials? I remember discussing this with my high school actors back in the seventies when we were rehearsing The Crucible. Our fear of environmental poisoning has increased along with our scientific knowledge, but our reaction to hysteria, fits, and the unknown remains largely unchanged.
The Fever is written in the same erratic, disjointed style in which the facts appear in Deenie's life; the story reflects the chaos of contemporary high school and a world of unknowns. As a reader, you are no better equipped to predict the story's outcome than the people of Dryden.
Author Megan Abbott uses multiple viewpoints to show us how little everyone knows. Rumors spread, fear escalates, guilty secrets compound the issue, and we are reminded that terror takes many forms.
Romance, jealousy, and hopes about the future fuel the character's actions. Abbott's pacing, tension, and descriptive words will hold you spellbound, taking you back to your own high school dramas as well as those of your teenagers. If you like fiction, other people's crises and critical moments, and factors beyond your control, read Megan Abbott's The Fever.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Megan Abbott is the Edgar-winning author of the novels Queenpin, The Song Is You, Die a Little, Bury Me Deep, and The End of Everything. Her latest novel, Dare Me, was chosen by Entertainment Weekly and Amazon as one of the Best Books of 2012 and is soon to be a major motion picture. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Believer, Los Angeles Review of Books, Detroit Noir, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, Storyglossia, Queens Noir and The Speed Chronicles.
She has been nominated for many awards, including three Edgar Awards, Hammett Prize, the Macavity, Anthony and Barry Awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Pushcart Prize. Visit her website.
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