HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Fever 1793
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Cover Illustrator: Lori Earley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, reprinted in 2002
Language level: 3 (barely)
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 10-12 and up
Rating: ***** Five stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Anderson, Laurie Halse. Fever 1793 (published in 2000 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, a trademark of Simon and Schuster Inc., 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10020). It is the summer of 1793 in Philadelphia, PA, and fourteen year old Matilda (Mattie) Cook lives above the family coffeehouse on High St. with her widowed mother, grandfather Captain William Farnsworth Cook of the Pennsylvania Regiment during the American Revolution, and orange cat Silas. Their cook is a free African-American Eliza, and they have a serving girl named Polly. Mattie’s beau is Nathaniel Benson, an apprentice to painter Remington Peale. An epidemic of yellow fever hits the city. Polly dies. People begin fleeing the city right and left. Mattie’s mother becomes ill, sending the girl and her grandfather to friends in the country.
However, when Grandfather seems to fall sick, the two are abandoned by their wagon driver who makes off with all their possessions. Then Mattie herself comes down with the fever. Where can she and her grandfather go? Should they try to reach their friends or return to Philadelphia? What will happen to her mother? And will she ever see Nathaniel again? Laurie Halse Anderson, author of the contemporary teen novel Speak, bases Fever 1793 on an actual epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia that wiped out 5,000 people in three months. The two biggest complaints which I saw, besides those of technical literary critics with their personal opinions about pacing and characterization, were that the story is boring and the plot is way too sad. Of course, those who prefer only “shoot-em up, bang, bang” books will find any tale that is told gently to be boring. And yes, there is sadness. After all, it is about a fever epidemic in which many people died.
As to language, the “d” word is found once, and the term “God” is used as an exclamation, also once. There are a few references to smoking pipes and drinking ale. However, I was pleasantly surprised that, where there was plenty of room to introduce objectionable material, none was injected. I think that it is great historical fiction for young readers. The New York Times Book Review calls it “A gripping story about living morally under the shadow of rampant death.” In fact, Mattie finds great comfort in her troubles through prayer and Bible reading. Anderson has recently produced a set of similar historical fiction novels, Chains (2010), Forge (2012), and Ashes (2016), known as “The Seeds of America Trilogy,” about the Revolutionary War.