Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

The Perils of Female Sexuality

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

The Perils of Female Sexuality

Article excerpt

Baffling. Disturbing. Infuriating. All words to describe what's happening at Dryden High in Megan Abbott's taut new novel, "The Fever."

Also words to describe the book itself, perhaps most particularly the listening experience.

The book turns on the Nash family, science teacher Tom, shy but good-looking hockey player Eli and 16-year-old Deenie. One day at school, Deenie's best friend Lise, a formerly plump and awkward child who has blossomed almost overnight into a stunning sex kitten with slender body and large breasts, suffers a seizure in class. Within minutes, video footage is circulating through social media, and the next day another girl succumbs, and then another. Soon the ER is overflowing with girls "spinning like tops" and their panic- stricken parents; the school board's got a problem on its hands and the community is going bonkers.

Are the fits the result of the HPV vaccine nearly all the girls have had? Is there something in the water? Is a nearby lake that literally glows in the dark to blame? Is it all in the girls' heads?

Abbott based the story on a 2012 incident in LeRoy, New York, where 20 people fell ill with what was ultimately declared mass psychogenic illness, but since there's no fun in simply copying from real life, you'll have to stick with "The Fever" all the way to the end to see what's happening.

What's happening when girls aren't falling into seizures during orchestra performances or vomiting on the gymnasium floor is that they are simmering bundles of sexual awakening, of secrets kept, betrayals and all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) nuances of the social hierarchy of adolescence. Exacerbated by cell phones, Facebook and YouTube posts the stricken girls post of themselves, the situation spins out of control faster than the simple gossip phone trees of the past.

Deenie's brother Eli is the seemingly clueless object of much of the longing, the recipient of texted photos of girls' torsos and of a parade of girls, some of whose names he can't quite recall, who have sneaked into his bedroom. …

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