The Fever by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown, June 17th, 2014)-Megan Abbot is a master at writing fiction that, from the first word, begins to slowly stir up a quiet unease, building dread until it’s nearly unbearable, and The Fever is no exception. Teen angst is alive and well in The Fever, and it goes a little like this: Deenie and Gabby are best friends. Gabby is very popular. The girls want to be friends with her and they want to be her. In fact, “girls hung from her like tassels.” Gabby Bishop, Deenie Nash, and Lise Daniels are the “Trio Grande.” Lately, though, another girl, the rather scary, free spirited Skye, has encroached on their little group, and Deenie isn’t happy at all about the time Skye and Gabby spend together, without her. When Lise has a seizure during class and falls into a coma, the rumors start to fly, and there’s no more fertile ground than the fetid, hormone rich halls of a high school. Events turn very serious when other girls begin to suffer “attacks”, and Deenie has the uneasy feeling of knowledge just on the edge of her consciousness, of what can lead to the truth about the episodes and what led to Elise’s coma. The adults have their own ideas of vaccinations gone wrong,toxins in the air, even contagion, and before anyone can get to the truth, the school, and indeed the small town of Dryden, are whipped into a frenzy of fear.
In The Fever, Megan Abbot revisits the sometimes dangerous world of teen girls that she explored so well in Dare Me and sets the considerable drama against a background of paranoia and panic. At the center of the story is Deenie and her older brother, popular hockey star Eli, who live with their father Tom, who is a teacher at their high school. Tom loves his children fiercely but is increasingly aware of his maturing daughter slipping through his fingers. Seemingly overnight, the girls who used to spend the night in whimsical pajamas are beautiful, ethereal, and confounding things, and Lise’s unknown illness is like the flame that lights a potentially explosive fuse. Deenie is dealing with her own issues. Her mother moved out a while back, and Deenie is at a time in her life where having her mom around might ease some of her worry. A first sexual encounter has her on edge, as does the rift between her and Gabby. Eli is having growing pains himself, and is mystified about a picture of a girl in her underwear (taken below the neck) that he received on his phone and rumors of a sexual liaison that he supposedly had.
Megan Abbot is a pro at drawing out suspense and stretching the tension to the breaking point. Seriously, there aren’t many authors that do it better, and in her portrayal of pubescent teen girls, she draws them as almost sylphlike creatures with long limbs, complicated hair, and devious minds. Oh so devious minds. Adding to Deenie’s stress is a recent trip to a nearby lake that’s filled with algae and thought to be filled with much worse. The gulf between the parents and their teens is wide, and it’s here that Abbot packs in the terror, and even melancholy that’s beginning to overwhelm them.
What’s going on in The Fever is not otherworldly, but Megan Abbot makes you feel like it is, and her descriptions of the nearby lake, and Deenie’s worry that their forbidden visit has something to do with Lise’s condition, only serves to add to the cloak of fear that has settled over these girls like a shroud. Being a teen is confusing at best and terrifying at worst, and Megan Abbott mines this for all it’s worth, and then some. The Fever is an arresting, and very creepy work of suspense and suburban gothic, and I dare you to try to put this one down once you’ve picked it up.