The Fever
Megan Abbott
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Buy *The Fever* by Megan Abbott online

The Fever
Megan Abbott
Back Bay
336 pages
May 2015
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Fever.

In The Fever, the psychological and sexual spell cast by a combination of charm and vulnerability is personified by Deenie Nash. Reminiscent of Princess Aurora in a world suddenly spun into the deep, dark woods, Abbott captures the essence of her heroine’s dangerous situation at Dryden High and her intriguing friendship with her best friends, Gabby and Lise. Lise’s newfound beauty captivates those around her, as does Gabby’s friend Skye, her masses of blond hair and jangling bracelets adding to her startling sense of mystery.

Dryden may be the cloudiest city in the state, broken only by “bright bolts of mysterious sun,” yet a ripe evil steadily rolls through the town “like a dark fog,” taking possession of lovely, smart Lise. Deenie can’t believe the outburst one morning when Lise starts rocking in her chair and shaking at her table. Her friend’s head twists as she slams into the tiles, her bright red face turning as her mouth teems with froth.

There’s little explanation for Lise’s seizure as Lise’s mother freaks out that her daughter almost died. A picture of Lise with an “angry crack down her face” is perpetuated; Gabby does her part to spread the rumor that Lise’s face is like “two pieces that no longer go together.” There’s no stopping the texts and the jangle of cell phones. The incident becomes the catalyst for the paranoia and fear sweeping the school and the community: “It didn’t feel like a vaccine, it felt like a virus a plague. Maybe it’s inside us now and she got it from us.”

The eerie feeling of something unstoppable feeds on itself as the hallowed halls of Dryden come alive with the treacherousness of the disease as it stalks its denizens with the shadow of death. Deenie is most unsettled by the experience, the loss of her friend and confidante leaving her desolate and searching for answers. The “trio grande,” always huddled together, Deenie, Gaby and Lise are the school’s “cool girls” who thrive “on a whispering kind of closeness.” Others, too, are equally tormented by their private demons, self-doubt and atavistic yearnings to find answers as more girls succumb to the fever. Deenie’s brother, Eli, Dryden’s star hockey player, and her father, Tom Nash, who teaches at the school (“easily the smartest guy Eli knows”), are both sucked into the ensuing panic and paranoia.

Alternating between Eli, Tom and Deenie, Abbott creates the claustrophobic sexual feelings of her characters—especially Deenie, who centers the action and whose assignations with hunky Dean Lurie propel the constant sense of neurosis and anxiety. Deenie can’t bring herself to tell Gabby, Eli or Tom as her head fills with muggy thoughts of the night, her body all “tender nerves and sudden pulses.” She worries the seizures may be from the HPV shots several weeks earlier, or that they may come from the local lake which is polluted with a strange green bacteria. This fuels the angst of the students and their parents, who see the incident as a catalyst for a confrontation with the school authorities.

Amid gossip that a vampire walks amongst them, perhaps driven by the bats down by the acid lake, there is also evidence that Lise was whispering in Deenie’s ear, her heart, so “flighty and fitful.“ Gabby, meanwhile, is cold and self-obsessed—until she too falls victim. Gabby’s preoccupation throughout is with enigmatic Skye, for whom she has an affection far more powerful than Deenie at first thinks. In a vain attempt to explain his shattered school life in the midst of his father’s love, the day of Lise’s seizure and the ensuing investigation, Eli becomes mesmerized by the alluring magic of Skye, who seems to be using her power over everyone and everything to get what she wants.

Indeed, this book is a more risky affair than its sugary, glossy surface betrays. Deenie can barely let her mind rest, her head increasingly filled with thoughts of the lake, the HPV shots, and Lise in hospital hooked up to life-support. Dryden’s anxious parents are mostly at a loss, crying humiliating public tears of frustration as the media blitzes the area and events spiral out of control.

From the explosive ending and its revelations about the lengths to which teenagers will go to preserve or take what's theirs, and of clever, manipulative girls adept at turning circumstances to their best advantage, like a murky, dark dream, Abbott’s novel is endlessly erotic, compelling and captivating.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2014

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