Sunday, June 7, 2009

Book Review: Fever 1793


I recently received a $5 Borders gift card at work. I took the gift card, along with a 25% off coupon to my local Borders and was like a kid in a candy store. If anyone ever wanted to know what to get me as a gift... gift cards to either Borders or iTunes. Both arenas make me giddy!

I had initially planned on picking up the first book in the Rick Riordan series Percy Jackson and Olympians. My intent was to read it aloud to the boys (or at least Ethan). But as I perused it a bit, it seemed a bit over his head. Besides, we have other books we are working on and many that we have yet to start. So I kept wandering and spotted a book that I had seen before but had put back. Its title is Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. I adore historical fiction and this was right up my alley. So I bought the paperback edition and after my coupon and the gift card, I owed a mere $.74! The Amazon review says the reading level is ages 9-12, but don't let that stop you from reading this wonderful book. (Remember, Harry Potter was also written to a youth audience but that hasn't stopped adults around the world from enjoying it!)

The main character is Matilda Cook. She is a young girl of about 14 years. (Don't believe the Amazon review which tells you she is 16. This is inaccurate, given the details in the story. The novel takes place in 1793 as the title states. In the second chapter Mattie states, "My father had built our home and business after the War for Independence ended in 1783. I was four years old." So there is no way she could be 16. This was the only reference to Mattie's age we are given.) Mattie helps run the family business (a coffeehouse in the downstairs of their home in Philadelphia) with her widowed mother, a servant girl, and a cook named Eliza. Her grandfather also lives in the home. In the heat of August, yellow fever hit Philadelphia with a vengeance. Thousands and thousands lost their lives.

Fever 1793 is the story of how Mattie survives during the yellow fever outbreak. It's based on historical facts (there was indeed a yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793) but is a work of fiction. It's a sad story, to be sure, but one infused with themes such as hope and endurance and love. Mattie battles illness, hunger, homelessness, and desperation. She's learned much from her grandfather, an army officer under General Washington, and she uses that knowledge to help her survive (and to help others survive as well).

I really enjoyed this novel. It's a fast and easy read and took me only a couple of days to read it. I highly recommend it! Despite that this was the post-Revolutionary War era and despite that more than 200 years have passed, it was amazing to see how much we are still alike in so many ways to our ancestors from that time. As I've said before, the older I get the more I realize that the world is a lot smaller than I thought, time is a lot shorter than I thought, and we're all a lot more alike than we are different.

As I mentioned above, I love historical fiction. If anyone has any suggestions for good historical fiction, leave a comment and let me know!

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