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“The Fever” by Megan Abbott Review

The Fever

The Fever

Author:  Megan Abbott

Released:  2014

This was the second book I’ve read by Megan Abbott, following the entertaining Dare Me. Based just on these two books, I would describe her genre as adult fiction focusing on teenage girls involved in murder plots. Nick Hornby turned me on to Ms. Abbott, and I’m glad he did. Abbott has a habit of making the locations and setting of the books feel like they could take place anywhere, and any time (after the invention of cell phones). I’m surprised more of them haven’t been turned into movies yet.

The Fever is follows around several characters with very connected lives. The main character is Deenie, a teenage girl whose best friends (Lise, Gabby), occasional rival (Skye) and family (dad Tom and brother Eli) comprise the rest of the perspective characters. When Lise has a medical emergency in school, everybody is shocked and worried as she ends up in a coma with life threatening symptoms. However, when Gabby also has a medical episode at school the worry spreads to panic. When a third girl begins to get sick, the titular fever has become a craze among the students, parents and faculty of the school.

My biggest complaint with this book was that despite the seriousness of the situation for all the girls involved, they preferred to keep everything so secret that it really hamstrung everybody from finding out what was wrong. In particular, there is a huge reluctance to discuss having swam in a possibly contaminated lake. I understand the characters were not supposed to swim in the lake but when it looks like people could be dying it seems like the type of detail you’d want to mention to a medical professional. (I won’t spoil whether that ends up being pertinent or not.)

Abbott delayed providing answers for so long that I started to get antsy about whether the payoff would be worth it. Surprisingly it was, and I didn’t find it as predictable as the ending of Dare Me; here I guessed what was wrong with most of the girls but did not figure the initiating event ahead of time. The character that really stood out to me was Skye, particularly with how Deenie was instantly jealous of/threatened by her. It was the sort of thing that felt much more authentic that what I find in books with teenage characters. There was also a very sexual component to the book that was handled much better than I usually find in writing. The characters are all aware of/interested in sex, but Abbott doesn’t spend time detailing the exploits beyond telling the reader what’s happening.

I’ve read some other reviews where people have problems with the character Tom, particularly how he leers at some of Deenie’s teenage friends. While each of Abbott’s characters was flawed in certain ways in this book (jealousy, selfishness, dishonesty being the most common), Tom’s flaws seemed to revolve around his relationships with women. The leering behavior amounted to three or four sentences throughout the book (much more, if you count an adult french teacher) and contributed to his feeling like a fully formed character instead of just the great dad that stuck around when mom didn’t. All of the characters felt like real people, likable at times but not all the time.

4-star

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“The Valley of Horses” by Jean M. Auel Review

Valley of Horses

The Valley of Horses

Author:  Jean M. Auel

Released: 1982

My favorite book I read last year was The Clan of the Cave Bear, so I was very excited to dive in to its sequel The Valley of Horses. While I still enjoyed this book, it was definitely a notch below in my enjoyment level. I can pinpoint exactly why it didn’t work for me, and the reason is spelled J O N D A L A R.

Before I complain more about him however, I’ll sing some more praise for this series. I love the character of Ayla. A human child raised by Neanderthals, she is Tarzan and the Cesar Milar rolled into one. Auel does a fantastic job of explaining how Ayla comes to be so special in all her skills, as a way of compensating for how her mind worked differently from those that raised her. Over the course of this novel, Ayla comes up with new weapons and tools unlike anything used by either form of man, and continues her tradition of taking in small animals (but this time with much larger creatures). Even without the supporting cast of characters from the first novel, Ayla can carry a story on her own just fine.

Half of the novel follows Ayla, the other half follows two normal (cro magnon) men named Jondaloar and Thonolan. These are our first characters from our race that we meet in this series, and the two brothers are taking an extended journey together over a period of three years. We always know that one or both characters is on a collision course with Ayla, but unfortunately until that happens the two men are nowhere near as fascinating as the book’s other protagonist. Thonolan is OK. He’s a normal man who has a good sense of humor and is looking for love. I found him to be fairly easy to relate to.

His brother is Jondalar. I can only describe him as Christian Grey from prehistoric times (minus the bondage) (so far). Jondalar is tall, blonde, with blue eyes and every woman wants to have sex with him. It’s a good thing too, because if there’s one thing Jondalar is awesome at it’s having sex. For starters, he’s got a giant penis, which Auel references frequently throughout the book. More importantly though, he’s an expert at pleasuring females. Jondalar is often called on to be the first mate for young females because he is a generous lover and makes it so wonderful for them. Sure he also makes tools and is a good brother, but as somebody calls him later in the book he is a “woman maker.”

There was sex in the first book of the series, however it was almost animal in its quality (and considering Ayla was 11 when it took place the sex was particularly awful in its circumstances). In The Valley of the Horses Jondalar brings pleasure to virgins, widows, and everything in between, with a seeming special circumstance for every intercourse interlude. It was so much sex at times that I longed for another discussion of tool making with stone and sinew. In addition, Jondalar was particularly understanding and sensitive for all other issues. Compared to the men of the first books Clan, this particular character didn’t feel real for his time period.

If this book was just the pages with Ayla, I’d probably still give it a five, even with the end of the book having some of the over the top issues mentioned above. If it was just the Jondalar and Thonolan story, it’s be closer to a 2. I’m giving the book a four, but it’s actually more of a 3.5 for the exact scorers out there.

4-star