Over her last three novels, The End of Everything, Dare Me and, her latest, The Fever, Megan Abbott has become expert in mining the perilous crossing between teen and adulthood. For her, it’s a territory where every moment is dripping with possibility, with desire, and with newfound powers and observation. Yet doubt is also part of the equation. Friends outwardly share every detail, yet they still hold tight to their innermost secrets. It’s a world where bold action couples with insecurity. It’s a world of teen girls, on the brink of adulthood, inscrutable and mysterious to the boys and men in their midst.
The Fever centers on a group of 4 friends, Deenie, Lise, Gabby and Skye. The four are seemingly tight knit, but fissures begin to appear in the group dynamic as they circle closer and closer to the precipice of sex. After Lise has a frothing-at-the-mouth seizure in class, the group dynamic is rent.
But Lise’s seizure does more than shine light on the secrets the girls keep. It captivates their sleepy suburb and transforms The Fever from a teen coming-of-age novel to a creepy, dystopian look at the modern day suburban experience in a post-industrial society.
Lise’s seizure is near fatal, landing her in the hospital. Soon after, other girls begin to succumb to similar conditions. The doctors are stumped or covering up, the school is in damage control, and as more and more girls are felled, rumors abound about the seizure’s causes. Is the school riddled by toxic building materials? The town’s once thriving lake, now contaminated, has been cordoned off to the public. Is the polluted lake water seeping into the community’s drinking water? Perhaps, the most disturbing and persistent rumor is that the girls have received a tainted batch of the HPV vaccine, a vaccine that the school mandated for all enrolling girls.
Teen life is hard enough to navigate without the hidden dangers waiting to blossom in the playing fields of 21st century America. Abbott’s willingness to bring modern day dystopia to a teen novel makes The Fever a great read.