Warning to readers: When you open THE FEVER, be prepared to be yanked out of your life into an irresistible black nightmare filled with ominous foreboding. This is precisely what happens to the Nash family, the central characters. Teacher Tom Nash and his teenagers have tentatively and slowly managed to get their lives mostly back on track following the departure of Georgia, their wife and mother, two years before. The time leading up to her exodus was a disaster. First she intoned, "Living here is like living at the bottom of an old man's shoe." Then Tom discovered she'd had an affair, was pregnant, miscarried…and it all seemed to be connected somehow to Georgia's swimming in the town's murky, condemned lake. Or was it?
Deenie Nash is avoiding her best friend, Lise, at school. The night before had been momentous in Deenie's life. She had been working at the local pizza joint, as usual, when her co-worker, Sean, began teasing her. Somehow, she had ended up in Sean's car far out in the woods. Afterward, gazing into her mirror at home, she knew that what her friend, Gabby, said about appearing different after the first time was true.
"THE FEVER is the very definition of a stay-up-all-night-until-you-finish-it page-turner. Once begun, readers will be unable to stop reading just one more chapter and then another to see how the disparate threads weave together."
The next day, Deenie wonders if anyone looking at her can tell what happened with Sean. She is distracted by these thoughts in class, even as she notices that Lise seems to be rocking in her desk chair.
Lise snarls, "It's happening, it's happening."
She grabs her throat, jolts to one side, and flips her desk over. Her mouth foaming, she thrashes on the floor.
It's all anyone at school can talk about. Deenie finds Gabby in their hideout spot, deep in the school library's stacks. She is holding court, as always, flanked by two wanna-be best friends. The three girls interrogate Deenie, who knows nothing more than they do. Later, Deenie, despite her reputation as a rule-following student, ditches school to take a bus to Lise's house. Lise's grandmother, trembling, informs Deenie that the ambulance came for Lise, as Deenie spies vomit and a torn medical glove in the family's living room.
Deenie calls her father, begging him to take her to the hospital. There, Lise's frantic mom hugs Deenie and tells her she should see "what they've done to my baby." It seems that Lise's heart stopped beating, but they've resuscitated her. Deenie slips into Lise's room, where she finds the unconscious patient tangled in a spider web of tubes and wires, with a dent down the middle of her forehead. Deenie is suddenly sure this can't be Lise. After the long, terrible day, she makes it home where she is pelted by text messages about Lise. Gabby calls her at midnight, her voice strangely slurred and husky.
The next day at school, everyone is surprised that a scheduled concert will proceed, without Lise on her flute. As the music begins, Tom, Deenie's father, notices that Lise's chair remains empty. Gabby seems spot-lit, fluttering her hand across her cello while she stares straight into nothingness…right before her face starts to shake and her neck bends. The mysterious malady has struck a second teenage girl, but the nightmare is just beginning.
THE FEVER is the very definition of a stay-up-all-night-until-you-finish-it page-turner. Once begun, readers will be unable to stop reading just one more chapter and then another to see how the disparate threads weave together. When we finally close the book, blinking under the spell that author Megan Abbott has cast upon us with her true-to-life characters and her ominous, brooding setting, we can only marvel and press the book into a friend's hand, saying: "Read this."
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on July 11, 2014