The Fever by Megan Abbott
When I read Megan Abbott’s previous novel Dare me (reviewed here) last year, I knew she was an author to watch, moving into psychological thriller territory with her tale of High School cheer-leaders, having previously concentrated on 1950s noir. She seemed to get into the brain of these sporty girls perfectly and the novel although lacking a bit of pace in the thriller department was full of fascinating insights into the cheer-leading world that we don’t really have in the UK.
The Fever is again set in a High School, but couldn’t be more different in terms of drama. The story is told from the viewpoints of the Nash family. Father Tom is a popular teacher at the High School. Divorced, he’s bringing up two teenagers: the older one is Eli – an ice-hockey star and object of many girls’ affections; Deenie is sixteen, sweet and good at school.
At sixteen, all a lot of the girls want to do is talk about boys and brag about how far they’ve gone and with whom. It’s hard to keep a secret of this sort in school, but Deenie has one she’s desperate to tell her best friend Lise about. Before she can do that though, Lise has a kind of seizure in class in front of everyone. They’re all shocked and when Lise has another seizure at home hitting her head badly she ends up in hospital. Over the next days several more girls will go ill too with a variety of symptoms including Gabby, Deenie’s other best friend.
It’s not long before worried parents are blaming it on the vaccine – the girls all had their HPV shots shortly before it happened. This rang alarm bells with me (I’m strongly pro-vaccination!). The medics aren’t finding anything though. The girls have another secret apart from their initial forays into sex – four of them, Deenie, Gabby, Lise and Skye went swimming in the lake – the fenced-off lake that’s full of toxic algae. What if something else is causing the illness amongst the girls? Is the school hiding something? Gossip, panic and rumour-spreading quickly escalate the situation in this small town, especially when some of the affected girls post videos on social media.
The relationships between the girls are also complicated. Deenie in particular is perplexed by Gabby’s deepening friendship with Skye, who’d previously been a hanger-on to their threesome, she can’t help seeing Skye as taking her friend away from her.
Once again, Abbott proves she can get into teenagers’ brains to chart all their insecurities as they are on the cusp of becoming young women. This time though more than that, she also captures Eli’s confusion as he begins to understand the power that he has as an objection of attraction and in Tom we see a father watching his children growing up and away from him, proud of them yet sad at the same time.
The drama and tension build up nicely all the way through The Fever and there are plenty of red herrings along the way to distract us from the real cause of what has happened. I read the book is one long sitting which is the perfect way to devour a psychological drama. I will enjoy seeing where Abbott goes next as she ventures towards Gone Girl territory. (9/10)
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
The Feverby Megan Abbott. Pub Picador, July 2014, hardback, 256 pages.