The Fever by Megan Abbott is about a school-wide epidemic, the heart-breaking intricacies of teenage girl’s lives, and the balancing act of trust and risk, otherwise known as parenthood. Written from the viewpoints of Deenie, a sixteen-year-old girl, her brother, Eli, the hockey-stick wielding high school hunk, and their father, a charming high school divorcee, the novel bounces between the perceived and the assumed. It is at once a crime novel as well as a mystery thriller, with equal parts suspense and literary verve, as well as the psychological profiling of the most fascinating minds of all: the teenage girl’s psyche.
Abbott is a literary genius when it comes to the minds of teenage girls. I first realized this after reading Dare Me, and it’s come full force, now, with The Fever. She captures the terrible (and terrifying) longings of the youthful female voice, the complexities of high school, that are jolting and mysterious and eerily profound, and manages to get inside our own heads, despite gender or age. She also splits up the narrative, which gives greater accessibility to the book. Deenie, our “main” narrator, is a high school student, plagued with the usual high school problems, (except, in Abbott’s hands, they are made gorgeous and lyrical and all-encompassing). She also has a posse of friends: the newfound beauty, Lise, the enigmatic and “damaged” Gabby, and the witchy Skye. Then, there’s Eli, a quiet and surprisingly thoughtful, sexually promiscuous boy who relies on his good looks to score any girl in school. And finally, Tom, the nice-guy dad with a smile nicknamed “the crock”, is both a subtle flirt, as well as a teacher at his kids’ school. His relationship with his children, and his own vulnerability and uncertainty about parenthood, are written in insightful prose.
Throughout the novel, Abbott maintains a solid grasp on the suspense, and even though it isn’t instantly gratified, the reader is never left feeling cheated, or in any way abused by it. We want suspense, and we are given it, but it is a steady process that sees the reader through until the very end. It’s also an interesting read in regards to school politics, and how officials would indeed handle such a crisis. Though at its core a thriller, the thrills seem real; they aren’t cheap shots, but levelheaded and accurate. However, due to Abbott’s affinity for gorgeous language, the tale has a surreal, horror-flick feel to it just the same, enmeshed in a high school’s shadowy walls.
Abbott knows how to tell one hell of a story.
Reviewed by MB Sellers
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 6/17/2014