Monday, August 25, 2014

The Fever by Megan Abbot vs. Conversion by Katherine Howe [Review]

The Fever4 out of 5 Robots!

The Fever by Megan Abbott
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Release: June 17, 2014
Hardcover:  320 Pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
My Copy: Purchased
Reviewer: Shannon
Buy the Book: Amazon

Book Summary:
The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.

The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security.

A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire, The Fever affirms Megan Abbot's reputation as "one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation" (Laura Lippman).
(Courtesy of the Publisher)

Conversion4 out of 5 Robots!

Conversion by Leila Howland
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Release: July 1, 2014
Hardcover:  402 Pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
My Copy: Purchased
Reviewer: Shannon
Buy the Book: Amazon

Book Summary:
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane comes a chilling mystery—Prep meets The Crucible.

It’s senior year at St. Joan’s Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian, deciphering boys’ texts: Through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can’t.

First it’s the school’s queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan’s buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.

Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen—who’s been reading The Crucible for extra credit—comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago . . .

Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school—Conversion casts a spell. With her signature wit and passion, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe delivers an exciting and suspenseful novel, a chilling mystery that raises the question, what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?
(Courtesy of the Publisher)

Shannon's Thoughts:
I somehow managed to read two books back to back that basically had the same premise: girl has seizure in class, other girls fall victim shortly after, mass hysteria follows.  Since the storylines were so similar, I decided to review them together for compare/contrast purposes.

Conversion by Katherine Howe, admits finding inspiration for its "ripped from the headlines" plot from the LeRoy High School twitching illness that befell 12 female students.  The Fever doesn't make the same claim, but there is enough overlap that I would be shocked if Megan Abbot didn't draw from it as well.  Both center around a female high school student whose friends succumb to a mysterious illness.  The school and parents scramble for answers ranging from anywhere to pollution to a bad reaction to the HPV vaccination.  Both books look at the mass hysteria that follows after more and more girls are affected.  And both do a great job of creating a feeling of anxiety and dread within their protagonists.  I really got a great sense of foreboding and I loved that.  

I especially liked the family dynamics in both.  The Fever is definitely more melancholy of the two.  Deena is estranged from her mother after her parents' contentious divorce.   There is a sense of a broken and distracted home.  Deena's father worries about how to connect to Deena and struggles with the idea of her growing up.  He isn't quite sure how to talk to her anymore.  But I liked that Deena and Tom have a good relationship overall.  I also liked that The Fever also gives us Tom's POV.  It gives us another interesting view.  I wasn't too sure about including Deena's brother, Eli's POV, but I get that it was necessary considering how he fits into the story.  Conversion also has a lot of family time and I kind of adored Colleen's family.  They felt very real to me, complete with the bad dad jokes.  They weren't perfect by any means, but you always got the sense that they cared about each other.

As similar as some of the plot points are, they also differ a lot in their approach, especially in the ending and their reasons for the cause of the illness.  Conversion deals a lot with the competitiveness of a small prep school and the stress of getting into the perfect college.  Colleen worries a lot about getting into Harvard and is actually fairly obnoxious about it.  She comes across as very judgmental.  It grates on the nerves, even though she acts like a lot of other teenage girls I know.  There is also a love interest, which I neither liked or disliked.  The Fever focuses much more on Deena's innocence and naivety and her desire to rid herself of both.  It focuses a lot on sexuality and the ebb and flow of female relationships. 

One of the biggest differences, of course, was that Conversion juxtaposes the Salem Witch Trials with the modern day hysteria at St. Joan's.  I could see how Howe was making comparisons between the hysteria in Salem with the hysteria of today, but I felt the two storylines never quite came together and I was not very interested in the Salem timeline.  This also leads to the how each book approached the truth behind the illness.  Conversion definitely follows the Witch Trials/Were They All Just Making It Up?/Hysteria track, while The Fever delves into a more definitive cause.  I don't really want to give anything away, but I think both endings fell just a little flat for me.  After all that lead up...that was it?  The Fever is the guiltier one of the two.  I don't think I liked the final outcome much at all, especially with all the red herrings flying around.

Overall, though, both were a compelling read.  Both were well written and kept my interest.  I would recommend both.  If you like the idea of the Salem Witch Trials, I would recommend Conversion.  If you like grittier books, I recommend The Fever.  Both will probably make you scared to have teenage daughters.

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