Anderson, L. H. (2000). Fever 1793. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Anderson opens each chapter with a historical quote from the time period. This sets the mood for the tumultuous mood of the book. The main character is a teenage girl named Matilda. Matilda is a typical teen living a somewhat happy and content life in the city Philadelphia. She helps run the family coffee-house with her mother and grandfather. Her world takes a shocking turn when Polly, their serving girl, dies unexpectedly of a fever.
Over the next 4 months Matilda faces unimaginable struggles as her mother falls ill, in an attempt to flee the city she and her grandfather are abandoned on the roadside, and then she catches the Yellow Fever. Luckily, she recovers and Matilda and her grandfather return to the coffee-house to find her mother gone. They try to begin rebuilding their lives, but another tragedy occurs as Grandfather dies suddenly after a struggle with would be robbers.
While struggling to survive, Matilda finds a young orphaned child, Nell, and her mother’s black friend, Eliza. By living together and operating as a family they survive and eventually reopen the coffee-house. Matilda’s mother does eventually return, but she is disabled from the fever and Matilda’s life will forever be changed as she now has a major role in running the coffee-house and caring for the family.
I absolutely loved this book! I think it is a direct and graphic portrait of life during this time period. Middle school students, high school students, and adults may get a new appreciation for life, health and immunizations after reading and this book. Matilda is easy to relate to as she experiences typical teen emotions of laziness, confusion, and a crush on a boy. After reading this book, I plan to read more by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Sixteen-year-old Matilda Cook, her widowed mother, and her grandfather are eking out a living running a coffeehouse in the middle of bustling Philadelphia when they learn that their servant girl has died of yellow fever. Thus begins Matilda’s odyssey of coping and survival as the disease decimates the city, turning the place into a ghost town and Matilda into an orphan. Anderson has carefully researched this historical event and infuses her story with rich details of time and place (each chapter begins with quotes from books or correspondence of the late-eighteenth century), including some perspective on the little-known role African Americans played in caring for fever victims. The dialogue in Fever is not as natural sounding as it was in Anderson’s contemporary novel Speak (1999), which was a Printz Honor Book. But readers probably won’t be disappointed by Anderson’s writing or by her departure from a modern setting. Nor will teachers, who will find this a good supplement to their American History texts. Anderson tells a good story and certainly proves you can learn a lot about history in good fiction. An appended section gives more background. Category: Books for Older Readers–Fiction. 2000, Simon & Schuster, $16. Gr. 7-10.
Zvirin, S. (2000, October 1). [Review of the book Fever 1793, by L. H. Anderson]. Booklist Online 97(3). Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com/
The best historical fiction is the kind that immerses you in the time period through the mindset of a primary character. Anderson’s Mattie Cook does just that. In this diary based novel, we entire the harrowing experience of a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Mattie dreams of turning the family coffeehouse into a booming business and struggles to cope with her strict mother. But those issues are pushed aside when yellow fever strikes. Then Mattie has to fight for her life and the lives of her family. The city is turned upside down. Mattie struggles through it all. Readers will applaud her heroism and learn a lot about post-Revolutionary War Philadelphia in the process. 2000, Simon and Schuster, $16.00. Ages 10 up.
LaFaye, A. Ph.D. (2000). [Review of the book Fever 1793, by L. H. Anderson]. Children’s Literature. Retrieved from http://childrenslit.com/
Uses in the Library
I would like to offer Fever 1793 to the middle or high school American History teachers at my school. I would like to have it introduced with a book trailer before the students begin studying this time period. This may encourage students to read it for pleasure while they are studying the time period.