The Fever, by Megan Abbott, explores of the intensity of female adolescence and the often-unsettling dynamics of life in suburban America. The novel follows Deenie, a high school sophomore; her older brother, Eli; and her father, who teaches at her school. When Deenie’s best friend suffers a mysterious seizure, rumors and speculation spread as to the cause. Photographs proliferate instantly by text message, amplifying anxieties, and soon, when other teenage girls experience the same symptoms, the high school is beset by what seems to be a full-blown epidemic. The community begins to uncouple as paranoid, desperate parents demand answers.
Abbott threads The Fever with fear: that first loves are ephemeral, that friendships are frail, that the integrity of family and community are questionable at best. She is perhaps best known for her early period noir fiction, and here draws upon the hardboiled tradition in style and pacing, starting multiple fires throughout the novel—a mysterious ritual, sexual awakenings, parental strife, internecine high school social quarrels—each to be dealt with in turn. Meanwhile, Abbott strategically deploys such lush, almost operatic lines as, “He felt a stirring in his chest, and looking at Deenie, her slight neck arched up, he wanted to put his hands on her shoulders and promise her something.” The result is a compelling, suspenseful, and unnerving novel by an author who is redefining the literary thriller.