Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fever 1793 ~ by Laurie Halse Anderson, 2000

I woke to the sound of a mosquito whining in my left ear and my mother screeching in the right.

"Rouse yourself this instant!"
Thus begins this compelling YA novel.  Mattie, the narrator, faces dire circumstances.  Notice that mosquito buzzing in her ear.  Are you aware that yellow fever is spread by mosquitoes?  Notice the yellow of jaundice in the eye on the book's cover.  WHO (the World Health Organization) estimates that yellow fever causes 200,000 illnesses and 30,000 deaths every year in unvaccinated populations, with about 90% of the infections occurring in Africa.  From the back cover of this novel:
"During the summer of 1793, Mattie Cook lives above the family coffee shop with her widowed mother and grandfather.  Mattie spends her days avoiding chores and making plans to turn the family business into the finest Philadelphia has ever seen.  But then the fever breaks out.  Disease sweeps the streets, destroying everything in its path and turning Mattie's world upside down.  At her feverish mother's insistence, Mattie flees the city with her grandfather.  But she soon discovers that the sickness is everywhere, and Mattie must learn quickly how to survive in a city turned frantic with disease."
My first real awareness of yellow fever came from paying attention to dates as I walked through a cemetery on my way home from high school. One lower section of the cemetery, I noticed, was filled during the year of 1878, which I later learned was when Chattanooga was hit by the scourge of yellow fever. Since then, reading or hearing about yellow fever has reminded me of the people of my town who died during that epidemic. It even killed our mayor, who just happened to come from the city that's the setting for Fever 1793.
Thomas J. Carlisle (1832-1878)
Thomas J. Carlisle, born in 1832 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, joined the Union Army in 1861.  Carlile fought in the Battle of Chickamauga (a few miles south of Chattanooga) before being transferred to the Quartermaster’s Department in Chattanooga.  He served the remainder of the war in Chattanooga, and after mustering out in 1865, he remained in the city.  Twelve years later, in 1877, Carlile took over as mayor.  As other cities across the south began reporting outbreaks of yellow fever or malaria, Chattanooga began to take actions.  On August 24, at a specially called meeting, Mayor Carlile asked for funds to create a Citizens’ Relief Committee to begin working with the refugees flooding the city as the yellow fever epidemic spread across the south.

When the epidemic became widespread in Chattanooga, he and the board of aldermen discontinued their regular meetings.  As the city emptied of people trying to escape the spreading illness, Mayor Carlile remained and worked among the sick.  He contracted yellow fever and died in late October.  When the board of aldermen reconvened on November 5, it passed a resolution calling Mayor Carlile a hero for his efforts in the face of yellow fever.

Fever 1793 is fascinating, and I rate it 9 of 10, an excellent book.


Helen's Book Blog said...

Sounds interesting; I just bought it for my daughter and I to read, but I think we'll do Chains first

pagesofjulia said...

Thanks for making the story personal. It sounds good. Let us know how it goes.