Fever 1793 – Laurie Halse Anderson

FeverReading level: 7.6
Genre: Historical fiction
ELL-Friendly: Mostly
Library recommendation: Middle school

I have fond memories of reading Fever 1793 as a middle schooler, thinking I was so smart and sophisticated reading something historical, especially since my grandfather was a doctor. While I didn’t get the same thrill reading the book as a 20-something-year-old, I was able to appreciate it all the same.

I loved the historical aspects. There is a great deal of fact from the characters to the actual epidemic. Further facts are explained in the back of the book, at least in my old copy.

The character of Mattie Cook is pretty impressive. She fights Yellow Fever and wins, cares for her grandfather and an orphaned girl, fights off robbers, helps run a coffee shop, and doesn’t lose her cool while her world is falling apart. In my eyes, she’s right up there with Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior, two of my favorite heroines.

I took particular interest in the Free African Society and the character of Eliza, a free African American woman. I wasn’t sure until half way through the book if Eliza was African American or a white indentured servant because the dialogue didn’t reveal a different dialect as it usually does. Near the end, one African American man mentions that people don’t look very kindly on African people. The notes in the back of the book even explain that despite all the charity the Free African Society did for fever victims, people still spread slander against their work. That was the only hint of racism I saw, even though I’m sure it was a big part of life back then. I did, however, appreciate the love between Eliza and Mattie. I wonder if this would have been an exceptional relationship back in 1793.

There are a handful of words used throughout the book that are pretty specific to that time period, especially in relation to clothing, which may be confusing for students, especially ELLs. The context clues make it clear enough, though. All in all, it’s a good book for ELLs if they can get past a small bit of strange vocabulary. It’s definitely a middle school book and probably just fine for grades below 7th grade, despite the reading level being 7.6.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. magistramonson
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 05:48:56

    I loved this book as a middle schooler.


  2. Arynn McKenzie
    Jul 30, 2013 @ 03:09:46

    I recently used this as the support text in a unit I wrote on infectious disease. The student expository historical work was amazing. I think the book really helped. If you want to read a sample of the papers my seventh graders wrote there is one here. 🙂



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