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09 April 2009 @ 09:58 am
Laurie Halse Anderson's FEVER 1793 (4.5 stars)  
August 1793. Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. Fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook will buck her mother's system whenever she gets the chance. Her mother runs a coffeehouse in downtown Philly, and Mattie is expected to help out. Water the garden. Clean the dishes. Run the errands. Go to market. There's a lot of work to do, and Mattie doesn't want to do it. She’d rather travel to Paris or some other faraway land, even if deep down she wants Cook Coffeehouse to be the most successful business in Philadelphia.

Her grandfather is a tough and wise old man who served under General Washington in the Revolutionary War. He's taught his granddaughter as much as she'll soak in; granddaughters only want to know so much about wilderness survival. Eliza, Negro woman who serves Mattie's mother in the coffeehouse kitchen, is a sweet woman who teaches Mattie as much about womanhood as her mother does. And Nathaniel is just the handsome boy down the street who loves painting and bothering Mattie.

Mattie could not possible predict that she would need all her youthful experiences in order to survive. When the fever hits the town, all that was normal gets shattered to pieces. Rumors spread like crazy. Food becomes scarce. People get sick. Doctors practice shifty medicine. Townsfolk flee to the countryside. Thieves take over. Fear rises. Hope leaves.

So that Mattie won't fall ill, her family sends her to the countryside to wait things out. What was supposed to keep her safe ends up sending all their plans into a tailspin. She is forced to face all her family’s fears and survive as a woman, no longer a girl. Her survival depends on herself and whatever strength and courage she can muster. All her dreams depend on her ability to survive the pestilence.

The history of this book is fantastically woven into a compelling story and would make a solid read for a middle school English classroom. This young girl learning to make her way in the world and take on the hugest of responsibilities is both gutwrenching and heartwarming. Anderson does a beautiful job with the language and voice of the era, while giving us a character we can dream with and a journey we can feel.