Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Release Date: September 1, 2000
Publisher: Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)
Pages: 272
Received: Own copy
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads page


From Goodreads:

It's late summer 1793, and the streets of Philadelphia are abuzz with mosquitoes and rumors of fever. Down near the docks, many have taken ill, and the fatalities are mounting. Now they include Polly, the serving girl at the Cook Coffeehouse. But fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook doesn't get a moment to mourn the passing of her childhood playmate. 

New customers have overrun her family's coffee shop, located far from the mosquito-infested river, and Mattie's concerns of fever are all but overshadowed by dreams of growing her family's small business into a thriving enterprise. But when the fever begins to strike closer to home, Mattie's struggle to build a new life must give way to a new fight-the fight to stay alive.


Disease books!

I love historical fiction and I have a special (morbid?) interest in reading about plagues. So given that, I've had Fever 1793 on my TBR for a long time. Maybe it's the award or all the Laurie Halse Anderson fangirling I've heard, but for some reason I always shoved this book far down on my TBR priorty list. Hype scares me.

And then I didn't have a book to read and couldn't get to the library and figured I'd turn to my own shelves (finally) and read something I'd owned for years but still hadn't actually read.

Mattie can't hold a candle to Felicity* 

The main character does grow by the end of the book, but the problem with character growth means they need to start out at a point in need of growth, and that starting point can be irritating to read about.

Mattie acts spoiled and lazy with shameful (and anachronistic) work ethic. She's so judgy and I had a hard time finding anything about her to like.

But then people start dying!

And Mattie's personality matters less because the focus shifts to the disease. It's still about her because she's living through the events, but her as a person matters less than what's going on around her at the time. I was mostly fine with this though because I wasn't a fan of Mattie and I did find all the disease stuff very interesting.

The yellow fever outbreak is described well and with lots of historical details. I learned a whole bunch of stuff, which is exactly the reason I love reading historical books. MAJOR points for this! I entertained everyone around me with all sorts of wonderful facts about disease and eighteenth century living (I'm sure they were very pleased with me).

Even better, all these little factoids weren't just dropped in randomly. They were woven into the storyline in a way that felt natural and fluid. It wasn't boring or "educational" or anything like that. I felt like I was there, living through the nightmare right along with Mattie and the others. The world around me felt entirely real.

Then the disease abates and suddenly Mattie has grown and changed into a (sort of) better person. Is my "couldn't care less" feeling showing through? Well, I really couldn't care less.

Bottom line

Huge, super big points for historical writing, but zero points for Mattie (and really all the thinly developed characters).

I'm glad I read Fever 1793 and I'm glad I own it, but I don't think I'd bother buying a copy now if I didn't already have one. It's just, yeah, I liked the book. But I didn't love it and I don't fully get the hype. 

* That would be Felicity Merriman, the awesome Revolutionary girl to whom I still and will always compare all Revolutionary girls.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

 Do you have any questions about Fever 1793 that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.


  1. I know I read this but I don't really remember because it was back in middle or high school-it was no Speak is what I remember.

    1. No, from what I hear of Speak, it doesn't sound like this one has the emotional impact that one has.

  2. Small, have you read Mary Hooper At the Sign of the Sugar Plum
    At the Sign of the Sugar Plum by Mary Hooper? It takes place in London during the plague of the mid 1600's. I read it aloud to my students and it was a big, big hit. They even convinced me to read them the sequel (which I never do--I like to be mean and tell them that if they want to continue the series, they should read it themselves). And have you read In the Shadow of Blackbirds yet? That has a plague/illness. I didn't know you liked plague stories!

    1. I have never read anything by Mary Hooper! Oh, wait, scratch that, I DNF-ed her book The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose. It didn't turn me off completely though (part of the reason I DNF_ed was because I don't love Restoration era books). So I'll check that one out some time.

      I did try reading Shadow of Blackbirds and DNF-ed it. Didn't like it at all, unfortunately. I had such high hopes for it, too!

  3. Huh, I don't think that "disease books" are my thing! lol And an MC needing that much growth from the get go? I don't think this is for me...but great review nonetheless!

    1. haha well, they're definitely not for everyone! I think they're terrifying.

  4. I felt the same way. I thought the overall plot idea was really strong but I couldn't connect that well with the characters. If you do get a chance, definitely pick up Chains by LHA. It's SO much better!

    1. So glad you said that! I've seen Chains around a lot, I'll add it to my TBR> Thanks!

  5. "the problem with character growth means they need to start out at a point in need of growth, and that starting point can be irritating to read about." <-- So true. I think that's yet another reason why Girl of Fire and Thorns (book I read most recently) didn't elicit the feels for me.

    "I learned a whole bunch of stuff, which is exactly the reason I love reading historical books. MAJOR points for this! I entertained everyone around me with all sorts of wonderful facts about disease and eighteenth century living (I'm sure they were very pleased with me)." <-- YES SO TRUE. Huge part of the appeal in historical fiction, and hahah I would have been pleased if you did explain that to me :P.

    Sorry that Mattie (and the other characters) didn't work out as well as you'd liked. I wish I knew some other disease or plague books to recommend, but I can't think of any right now. It sounds like Rubita's got you covered there, though. Hope you enjoy your next read! :)

    1. Oh I totally see what you mean about Girl of Fire and Thorns! I ended up liking her, but, yep, totally perfect example.

      I'm glad you'd listen to me babble about historical factoids :P

  6. Yay Felicity! She was my favorite American Girl, although Samantha comes very close. I've thought about reading this for years. Now I still want to but I don't feel the need to rush.

    1. ME TOO!!!! My ranking was Felicity, Samantha, Kiersten. :)

  7. I remember trying this one when I was ten and I couldn't get through it. Love LHA, but a historical fiction novel has to be REALLY good to grab my attention. I don't remember exactly what it was- I think I was ok with Mattie as a character, though that may change now that I'm older- but I don't really get the hype either.

    1. See, and I love historical fiction, but this one wasn't doing it for me. Hm, I really wonder what the hype is about. Makes me question the hype for her other books, though more trusted people have said they're better.

  8. I wasn't surprised about your allure for historical fiction. I had no idea you had a morbid obsession with reading disease/plague books! This one sounds pretty good, too bad you don't play nice with the MC. Have you tried the Mask of Red Death?

    1. haha I think it's because they're so scary! I have read the Edgar Allan Poe Masque of the Red Death (love) but haven't read the YA book.

  9. I remember I tried to read this one after I read SPEAK - can't believe it has been 10 years since then - but I couldn't get into it. I'm glad it worked a little better for you though

    1. It seems like maybe she's a hit or miss author? This is the first book of her's I've read. I think. I might have read Speak years and years and years ago, but I don't remember anymore.


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