in a sentence or two: it's 1793 in Philadelphia, and a mysterious fever is said to be killing people without mercy. the murmurings of yellow fever come to fruition when 15 year old Mattie's mom is struck ill with a fever that drives her crazy and gives her eyes a horrid yellow tinge.
Mattie, her mom, their cook Eliza and Mattie's grandpa run a coffeehouse in Philadelphia. grandpa served under the great General Washington and likes to fill her days sharing stories, sneaking her candy, and being overall supportive and encouraging. her dad died from a fall off a ladder which left her mom understandably saddened and bitter, very much unlike the soft and comforting woman she used to be. their life at the coffeehouse provides a good deal of gossip off the street about the fever, however, their first awareness is when their beloved scullery maid and friend of Mattie dies suddenly in her home.
the book is the journey of Mattie and her family in their attempts to avoid the yellow fever. the fear that people felt from not knowing how to prevent the spreading of the disease or what to do when it struck is strongly delivered by Anderson. the differing opinions of doctors, the despair, and the struggle to keep going when everything seems hopeless flood this book with rich emotions.
i was impressed with Mattie's voice as the narrator. as a 15 year old, she's in that awkward phase somewhere between being a girl to being a woman, which adds a blend of insecurity and determination that fits perfectly with the surrounding circumstances of the rest of the story. i didn't think i was getting too sucked in to the emotions until i was bawling in the middle when someone died...then i realized how captivating this book was.
something i really appreciated was at the end of the book when Anderson answers some questions like "did the epidemic really happen" and "where are they buried" as well as the real life counterparts of the names she uses in the book. as a piece of historical fiction, i thought this complimented the read well. while Mattie and fam aren't necessarily real characters, they certainly represent one of the situations that many people faced during that time.
if you're looking for a solid hist-fic read with a wide range of developed emotions (including a little romance), great plot, a compassionate voice, with more-than-a-dash of historical accuracy in the form of events and language, this is for you.
fave quote: "They told of a small child huddled around the body of her dead mother. As volunteers placed the mother in a coffin, the child had cried out, 'Why are you putting Mamma in that box?' They had to turn the child over to a neighbor and take the mother away for burial. They told of the dying man who pulled himself to the window of his bedchamber and begged people to bring him a drink of water. Many passed by, hurrying away from the sound of his voice, until a brave soul entered the house to help him. They told of thieves who crept in and stole jewelry off the dead and dying. They told of good people who refused to take any money for helping strangers, even though they themselves were poor and near destitute...They told of terror: patients who had tried to jump out of windows when the fever robbed their reason, screams that pierced the night, people who were buried alive, parents praying to die after burying their children." (105-106)
fix er up: i would have liked more development with Mattie's love interest, Nathaniel. though the lack of it didn't hurt the book at all, and in fact now that i think about it, keeping it on the back burner of the plot makes sense. i'm just nitpicking.