Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott
High school provides all the drama. Classrooms and hallways house gossip, proclamations of sex, and scandals. Secrets spill from tightly sealed lips, and loyalties break in an instant. When you think about it, isn’t a high school the perfect setting for a modern horror story?
Megan Abbott’s latest novel, The Fever, tries to take advantage of the dark possibilities of the high school world, and the atmosphere of The Fever is, indeed, great. Abbott presents three girlfriends—Deenie, Lise, and Gabby. Deenie is the one Abbott chooses to carry the story. Deenie’s father is a popular teacher, and her brother is a popular athlete. She is, at least socially, a Dryden High star. Well, all the girls are. They are popular. The other girls want to be them; boys want to be with them. For the group of friends, things are good.
Then, all hell breaks loose. Lise, one of the girlfriends, has an Exorcist-like seizure. Word starts spreading. Lise nearly dies at the hospital. Other girls start spewing at the mouth. Heads start spinning. Paranoia sets in. You can feel something bubbling—something sinister and haunting…
Then, nothing really happens. The fact that The Fever chooses to remain quiet isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just not what I expected. The Fever transitions from an up-all-night horror tale into an analysis of the adolescent mind, which is, to be fair, terrifying in its own right. The girls begin to crave attention. You get the sense that the less popular girls want to have seizures to get the notice that they so desperately desire. Lies spread rampantly throughout the hallways of Dryden High. The paranoia increases from impacting just the students inside the school to causing panic among the adults in the community.
You get the impression that Abbott knows a thing or two about young people. The voices she gives the girls are so real. The small betrayals she so slyly, yet effectively, describes take place in any high school on any given day. The reactions of the characters are sincere, too. The way these girls navigate the world of The Fever gives the narrative most of its emotional resonance.
Another thing Abbott gets right is how she places teenage desire above all other qualities. The world of The Fever is a jealous one—one where everyone wants something they cannot get. The characters want attention, sex, boys, and answers. The Fever asks how far we are willing to go to get what we want. For many, it’s an important thing to consider.
The Fever, for all of its high marks, falls a little short in the end of being a great novel. Instead, it settles for being a good one. Abbott creates a gritty and suspenseful setup, but the novel doesn’t come together in the last few chapters. The cause of the seizures seems odd and rushed. I didn’t have to have a terrifying experience, but I wanted one that at least made me think about getting a nightlight.