Laurie Halse Anderson’s historical novel Fever 1793 takes place in Philadelphia during the Yellow Fever epidemic. Nearly 5,000 people died from yellow fever, and those who could afford to leave town fled to safety. Like the recent global COVID-19 epidemic, chaos reigned, and majority groups started accusing minorities and immigrants for spreading the sickness. Yellow fever struck fear in the hearts of the people in Philadelphia as everyone was petrified of catching the fatal disease. Oftentimes, sick people were denied entry into hospitals, homes, and towns. The infected were left to fend for themselves.
Matilda Cook tells the story of a 14-year-old girl who lives with her widowed mother and grandfather. Matilda’s mother owns and operates a coffeehouse with only the help of her cook, Eliza. Eliza is a free African American woman who is part of the Free African Society, a group of people who help with taking care of the sick. Matilda’s grandfather, a Revolutionary War veteran, takes on her father’s role and brings humor and color to the story.
Matilda is a strong female character who is lovable, smart, and caring. Teens, especially girls, will relate to Matilda as she expresses her independence from her mother on her way to adulthood. She grows and matures from a lazy kid to an independent and hardworking teen. Hints of romance are dropped along the way, but the partnership is not the main point. Matilda is a very dramatic character who must change her personality if she wants to survive.
The separation of social classes presents another challenge that Matilda faces in addition to death. As the deadly plague spreads throughout the town, only the rich can afford to leave, while the less fortunate must stay. Matilda faces many dire situations and problems that could potentially end her life.
While reading this book, I felt Anderson wanted to inform readers about yellow fever. She did an excellent job! She filled the book with information. Before reading Fever 1793, I knew nothing about yellow fever. I did not even know that Pennsylvania had a pandemic. When reading this book, readers will learn the details about the role African Americans played during the Yellow Fever epidemic, the strange medical practices that “treated” patients, and the controversy that surrounded doctors at the time.
Although Fever 1793 is a great book, there are other historical fiction books that I would recommend more. The plot did not fully engage me at all times, and the author had not developed strong enough characters to make me have to keep turning the pages. The plot was predictable, and the suspense was not emphasized enough so it was not always a page turner.
All things considered, it was one of the easiest historical novels that I have read. Not only does this book follow a chronological order, which is easy to follow and understand, it also did not leave out any key elements. Everything that I needed and wanted to know is conveyed in the book.
The only thing I would do differently, if I was the author, is fully develop the minor characters. When a character goes through something bad or unfortunate, I wanted to feel empathy for that character but instead, I did not care about them.
Generally speaking, Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson is good, but not a must read book. If you are looking for an easy historical novel to read that is interesting and relatable, this is the perfect book for you. If you like this genre, then what are you waiting for? Stop staring at your screen and start reading!
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2002. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!