It's late summer 1793, and the streets of Philadelphia are abuzz with mosquitoes and rumors of fever. Down near the docks, many have taken ill, and the fatalities are mounting. Now they include Polly, the serving girl at the Cook Coffeehouse. But fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook doesn't get a moment to mourn the passing of her childhood playmate. New customers have overrun her family's coffee shop, located far from the mosquito-infested river, and Mattie's concerns of fever are all but overshadowed by dreams of growing her family's small business into a thriving enterprise. But when the fever begins to strike closer to home, Mattie's struggle to build a new life must give way to a new fight-the fight to stay alive.I picked up Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson because of the cover originally. And the author. The blurb on the back totally sucked me in. I love historic fiction. Absolutely love it. Even a story as sad as this one.
Mattie's town is stricken with yellow fever. Her mother falls ill and orders Mattie out of the house and out to the country. Her grandfather, ever the military man, promises to deliver her to her destination and protect her with his life. But not long after leaving Mattie's grandfather also appears ill. They're kicked out of the wagon that's supposed to drive them and it takes off with everything but the clothes on their back.
Mattie, too, becomes extremely ill but manages to pull through to find that her grandfather is, more or less, well and ready to journey on. They decide to go back home to find Mattie's mother, but she's gone. And there's no way to find her. With so few people even willing to come out of their homes there's not even anyone to ask. So they find themselves back in the coffee house waiting to see what happens next.
Like I said, I love historic fiction. I love period stories with a passion. And Fever 1793 was fantastic. It's got enough in it to keep you turning page after page and before you know it, you'll be finished with it. The story is based on the actual yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia and displaced thousands of people, killing thousands more.
I love the actual history peppered throughout the entire book and how well it was fused with the life of Mattie Cook and her family. We got to see the plague through the eyes of someone who was there. Fictionally speaking, of course, but how many girls like Mattie lived in Philadelphia at that time? How many people had to go through the things she went through. The prospect of first love. The loss of a friend. Having to leave home after finding out she may also lose her mother. Her bird disappearing. Falling ill but recovering only to lose her grandfather during a burglary.
That was the part that got me. That hit me the hardest.
It was sad when her mother sent her away. When all she could see, hear, and smell around her was pestilence and death. But it broke my heart to pieces when her grandfather left her. Absolutely broke it to pieces. Big, mushy, blubbering pieces.
He had such a big heart. He was such a hero to Mattie. And she was a hero to him. He loved her so much and was determined to protect her and care for her with everything he had in him. I'm glad that this wasn't a story where the teenage main character was irritated and horrible to the grandparent that was only there to care for them. I think that would have been horrible.
But Mattie, she loved her grandpa every bit as much as he loved her. She rescued him every bit as much as he had rescued her. Unfortunately, for both of them, the last rescuing took too much of him. I cried. I will admit it. And it was bad because it was in the dentist's office. So I'm sure I looked like an idiot, but that's ok. Books that can pull emotion out of nowhere are the best books to read.
I liked that this book did not really end with a "and they lived happily ever after". As sad as that is. No one bounced back to where they'd been before the fever hit. It took its toll on everyone. Young and old. Strong and weak. It was realistic in its portrayal of the survivors. While I would have loved a happily ever after for some of the characters, life isn't always like that. Mattie found out how strong she was, despite her young age. Eliza, her friend and the cook for the coffee house, was able to move up in life to a position not many people of her color were able to reach during that time. Mattie no longer seemed scared of herself or worried about how to behave properly. She no longer worried about whether or not people viewed her as a child. She had found her place and earned her right to be where she was in the end. She worked hard.
I think that was about as happy as it could end. Through horrible illness and loss, she found out who she could be and how strong she was in the process. She became herself, instead of trying to fit everyone else's image of a girl her age.
This was a middle grade book. One that I might have read in 5th - 8th grade. It's definitely age appropriate, and I believe it's got enough in it to keep even the most reluctant reader reading. I'd recommend this to people of any age though. Not just children. Like I said, it's based in actual historical fact so you just might learn something you never knew before if you give this one a go!