Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Laurie Halse Anderson 2-fer-1

In the span of one week, I've gone from being a total Laurie Halse Anderson newbie to being a big fan. As usual, I'm doing a fine job of reading a variety of different types of books, right? Well, lucky for me, despite their being by the same author and featuring female narrators coming of age under difficult circumstances, the similarities between Speak and Fever 1793 end there. Now, because I'm so good at being concise (I'll give you a few minutes to get all the laughter out of your system now), I'm going to attempt two brief(er?) reviews of two excellent YA books. Since I may be among the last five people on the earth that proclaims to read YA books and hasn't read anything by Laurie Halse Anderson, maybe I'll be able to kill the whole summary thing and get right to the good stuff. Maybe.

Speak is the story of Melinda Sordino who is starting her first year of high school as a total outcast after having called the cops from an end of summer party. It's obvious that Melinda has a dark secret from that night, but Halse Anderson takes her time in revealing it. In the meantime, Melinda offers up a scathingly realistic and wryly humorous look at high school. For readers still in high school, I would think they could easily I identify with many of the ridiculous events that Melinda describes. It definitely rang true for my high school experience and brought back a lot memories. Melinda is a realistic and engaging narrator starting her year scared and insecure and slowly growing up through the course of the year. For a "troubled" teen, she is surprisingly lovable, and it's a breath of fresh air when she finally begins to share the secret she's been holding on to. This is a great story of a girl coming through something terrible that has happened to her and learning what she's made of in the process. Definitely one of my favorites of this year so far.

Read other reviews at Dog Ear Diary and An Adventure in Reading.

Fever 1793 features another girl, Matilda Cook, who is about the same age as Melinda but in vastly different circumstances. The setting for this novel is Philadelphia in (you guessed it) 1793. Mattie's widowed mother owns and runs the Cook Coffeehouse where important men of the city come to talk politics and enjoy coffee and the fare prepared by Eliza, a free black and friend of the family. At the beginning, Mattie is a typical young girl - more eager to have fun and disobey her mother than to pull her weight at the coffeehouse. As summer is very slowly drawing to a close, disaster strikes as a deadly yellow fever epidemic sweeps the city. The city devolves into chaos and Mattie's life is torn asunder when her mother takes ill. The epidemic forces Mattie to grow up fast as she is left almost alone in a city that seems to be slowly dying. As the first frost comes, effectively ending the fever, and Mattie has still not heard from her mother, Mattie is forced to make some difficult decisions about her future and the future of the coffeehouse.

Mattie is an engaging narrator as well. It's easy to relate to her desire to leave behind the backbreaking work of the coffeehouse and enjoy her life. Halse Anderson does a fine job of portraying how Mattie changes during the epidemic and gains a new inner strength that she is able to draw upon to pick up her life once the epidemic has ended. Philadelphia in 1793 is realistically portrayed both in health and in sickness. Halse Anderson has obviously gone to great pains to maintain the historical accuracy of her story and succeeds admirably. Included at the end is a very interesting appendix that elaborates on the factual elements of the story. Fever 1793 is another great story of a girl transcending her very dire circumstances and finding out who she is in the process.

Both of these books get two thumbs way up from me. At first, I worried that I would find Mattie lacking after Melinda, but once the epidemic came to town, Mattie's narration really found its stride, and I can report that both books were excellent and well worth reading for both teens and adults.

Hey, that was pretty concise...well, for me, that was pretty concise. That's two more down for the Spring Reading Thing, too. In other news, I'm probably not going to make my Spring Reading Thing goal anyhow as my three Elle jury books just arrived this week and demand to be read. They're all travel writing and I am way excited to read them, but yeah, it's kind of a big detour from my challenge goal - but alas I must do my best and be grateful that the challenge has indeed been encouraging me to read more this spring, which I suppose, is the point of it all anyway!


  1. I, too, have not read Laura Halse Anderson, so you are not alone. But I will now put her on the - get those at the library list. Thanks.

  2. Speak is on my TBR list but yours is the second review I've read recently. Methinks I need to pull it out and get to it.


  3. Oh, these were wonderful reviews! I've got Fever 1793 on my TBR mountain, and with all the good reviews I've been seeing about Speak lately, I think I'd better get my hands on that one, too.

  4. I have just recently heard of Laurie Halse Anderson so I'm going to have to check out her book.
    One I recently picked up and couldn't put down is called bitter tastes by Victoria Rosendahl.
    It's a great little mystery about a girl trying to fit in, in her new school but can't because of her secret she's trying to hide.

  5. i read Speak earlier this month - my first Laurie Halse Anderson read! i also loved it! i picked up Catalyst at the library today ...

  6. I just read Speak for the first time myself for Becky's book club and really enjoyed it. I think it should be required reading for both the bully assholes in high school and for kids who just need something to relate to. I think I would've liked it back in high school. I'll have to check out Fever 1793