The Fever by Megan Abbott
Publication date: June 17th 2014
You spend a long time waiting for life to start—the past year or two filled with all these firsts, everything new and terrifying and significant—and then it does start and you realize it isn’t what you’d expected, or asked for.
Megan Abbott excels at portraying the almost overwhelming brew of hormones and perfumes that comes off teenage girls. Where she deviates from more traditional teen fiction is that more often than not the note that scent is heavily tinged with the testosterone of revenge. In The Fever, her newest novel, the action centers on a small circle of girls falling ill and exhibiting signs of what could either be seizures, bad HPV vaccines, or an illicit swim in a massively polluted lake. Much like the girls in Salem during the witch trials, the hysteria spreads and more fall ill—or think they are falling ill. In today’s record-everything-instantly society, photos and videos taken on phones show disturbing footage of each as she succumbs.
Caught in the middle of this growing medical nightmare is the Nash family. Father Tom is a teacher at the school, brother Eli is a popular student, and sister Deenie is the hub around which all the sick girls are connected. As she tries to stay above the growing questions about why she’s the only girl not getting sick, her father and brother try and deal with the students, friends, and the community and their own growing fears.
The Fever is a read-in-one-night kind of book (Abbott’s forte). The heightened pitch of the illness, the school, the girls, and their families builds realistically until the reader is primed for aliens or demons to exit bodies. Instead, what Abbott gives us is something much scarier: a look at the less than pretty side of teenage emotions.
Abroad Published by Sarah Crichton Books
Publication date: June 17th 2014
There are not many who would take a sexy university town in Umbria Italy and imbue it with a sense of darkness and foreboding but Katie Crouch does just that in her new novel, Abroad. The guileless Tabitha, or Taz, as she’s known to friends, is looking forward to leaving Ireland and spending her year abroad in sunny sexy Grifonia. Thanks to her near fluency in Italian she manages to find an apartment and get settled in, but her shyness and lack of confidence keep her isolated until a girl she knew from school befriends her. When she joins her group of three friends as the fourth, her social life takes off. What does not change is the reader’s increasing unease. This feeling could be because from the beginning Crouch intersperses modern day Grifonia with historical bits about the violent and bloody deaths of young women. Also, none of the characters seem to be what they’re pretending to be. Taz’s three wealthy gorgeous new friends? All of their money and social cachet comes from drug dealing.
Crouch ups the ante in Abroad when Taz, the novel’s narrator, indicates within the first half of the novel that she will be dead by the end. What is left, as she moves from adventure to misadventure is only who, when, and how it happens. Not big questions when the novel is so front loaded, but Crouch layers in a silent, brooding Englishman, parties in castles held in remote areas, pervy old men, and a guy Taz likes who is only interested in drugs and sex and she still doesn’t give away the game. The tight control she maintains on the story leaves the reader questioning until the final events.
It’s worth noting that Abroad is based on the Amanda Knox story (much like last year’s Cartwheel from Jennifer Dubois). This provides the most unusual aspect of the novel and allows it to gel. Much has been written from Amanda’s point of view but here we have the dead girl’s perspective and it is an interesting one. Taz is young and foolish and enters a lifestyle of which she has very little understanding and for which she pays the ultimate price. What Crouch provides is a completely unheard tale but while certain aspects are pure fiction and a bit over the top, the balance will challenge perceptions about this tragic story.