Fever 1793

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Author: Wendy J. Glenn
Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
From: Children's Literature Review(Vol. 213. )
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,379 words

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[(essay date 2010) In the following essay, Glenn provides an overview of Anderson’s historical novel Fever 1793. She summarizes the novel’s critical reception, outlines the plot and structure, charts the story’s origin and Anderson’s motivations for writing it, and describes in detail Anderson’s technique and approach to writing about a distant historical period for a young-adult readership.]

Anderson began work on Fever 1793 in 1993. The novel wasn’t completed and published until 2000, however, due to Anderson’s nighttime visit from Melinda Sordino and the resulting urge to put that story on paper and set the historical novel aside. The wait proved worthwhile; her recreation of life in Philadelphia during a yellow fever epidemic was well received.

Fever 1793 earned several national accolades. It was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice, Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media Award winner, Jefferson Cup Honor Book for Historical Fiction, Junior Library Guild Selection, and Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and it was listed as one of the New York Public Library’s 100 Best Books and the New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age. At the state level, the novel earned the Rebecca Caudill Award (Illinois) and Great Lakes’ Great Books Award (Michigan) and was named a Massachusetts Children’s Book Award Honor Book, Volunteer State Book Award runner-up (Tennessee), and Tayshas High School Reading List (Texas) title. Among booksellers, the novel was cited as an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists and Publishers Weekly Bestseller.

Professional reviews mirrored this positive response. Critics called the novel “a thrilling story about a gutsy teenager,”1 a “harrowing historical novel,”2 and “a riveting and well-researched historical fiction.”3 Another described the novel as “a vivid work, rich with well-drawn and believable characters. Unexpected events pepper the top-flight novel that combines accurate historical detail with a spellbinding story line.”4 “Anderson,” yet another reviewer said, “has fashioned a gripping story about living morally under the shadow of rampant death.”5 Readers “will be drawn in by the characters and will emerge with a sharp and graphic picture of another world”6 and “find this a gripping picture of disease’s devastating effect on people, and on the social fabric itself.”7

Reviewers were particularly taken with Anderson’s portrayal of Mattie, the novel’s “tenacious and tenderhearted” protagonist.8 They admired Anderson’s ability to create a believable character in a time and place far removed from the reality of her contemporary audience: “Ambitious, resentful of the ordinary tedium of her life, and romantically imaginative, Matilda is a believable teenager, so immersed in her own problems that she can describe the freed and widowed slave who works for her family as the ‘luckiest’ person she knows.”9 Anderson goes “back in time” to create a strong heroine whose story remains believable despite her many trials.10 Additionally, critics identified and valued the realistic growth Mattie demonstrates over the course of the novel, noting how her “sufferings have changed her from a...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420122892