Monday, February 25, 2008

Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson, Laurie Halse. (2000). Fever 1793. New York: Simon & Schuster. 251 pages.

Summary and Evaluation:
Matilda is a fourteen year-old living in Philadelphia when a Yellow Fever epidemic ensues and her mother forces her to go to the country to escape the fever. Matilda and her grandfather never make it to the country, however, and Matilda herself must survive not only the disease but also the anarchy that ruled Philadelphia during the hot months of September and October. When she loses her grandfather, Matilda must learn how to care for herself and others as she overcomes the devastating effects of the fever.

Anderson presents a vivid description of a little known event in history. When I think of Philadelphia at that time, I conger up thoughts of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams debating and little about the everyday people that lived there. This presented a different picture of the city. I was especially shocked to discover how inhumane citizens treated their own family members. Whenever someone was thought to have contracted the fever, the other members of the household would force him or her to leave. Looters came to the city to find abandoned businesses. Matilda does find herself working with a friend and The Free African Society which was essentially the only group to help the sick and impoverished during this time. Anderson includes an appendix of historical notes so that the reader can separate the truth from the fiction.

Everyone around Matilda seems to lose their entire family and livelihood. Comparatively, Matilda loses little. Intruders break in to her family's coffee shop more than once, but never find her family's savings. Matilda manages to recover in almost record time. I was certainly glad to see that she did not lose everything, but it seems a little unrealistic for one person to have so much luck.

Booktalk Hook: I would most likely present this book to a group of middle school students because Matilda's age and the way the subject matter is handled seem most appropriate for that group. At the beginning of each chapter, Anderson uses an original quote to introduce the content. Some of them can be rather gruesome in their descriptions of the pestilence. I would begin with the quote by Dr. Benjamin Roth that says, "Shafts of death fly closer and closer to us everyday" (p. 138). Then I would describe Roth's old-fashioned bleeding treatments for the fever before I introduce the fictional character Matilda.

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