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Fever 1793


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About The Book

An epidemic of fever sweeps through the streets of 1793 Philadelphia in this novel from Laurie Halse Anderson where "the plot rages like the epidemic itself" (The New York Times Book Review).

During the summer of 1793, Mattie Cook lives above the family coffee shop with her widowed mother and grandfather. Mattie spends her days avoiding chores and making plans to turn the family business into the finest Philadelphia has ever seen. But then the fever breaks out.

Disease sweeps the streets, destroying everything in its path and turning Mattie's world upside down. At her feverish mother's insistence, Mattie flees the city with her grandfather. But she soon discovers that the sickness is everywhere, and Mattie must learn quickly how to survive in a city turned frantic with disease.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide to

Fever 1793
By Laurie Halse Anderson

About the Book

August 1793. Fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook is ambitious, adventurous, and sick to death of listening to her mother. Mattie has plans of her own. She wants to turn the Cook Coffeehouse into the finest business in Philadelphia, the capital of the new United States.

But the waterfront is abuzz with reports of disease. “Fever” spreads from the docks and creeps toward Mattie’s home, threatening everything she holds dear.

As the cemeteries fill with fever victims, fear turns to panic, and thousands flee the city. Then tragedy strikes the coffeehouse, and Mattie is trapped in a living nightmare. Suddenly her struggle to build a better life must give way to something even more important—the fight to stay alive.

Discussion Topics

1. What was Philadelphia like in 1793? What were the advantages and disadvantages of living in the countryside outside of Philadelphia?

2. How was the life of a fourteen-year-old in 1793 different from the life of a fourteen-year-old today? In which period would you rather live? Why?

3. Mattie’s grandfather didn’t think there was any need to rush out of Philadelphia when the fever started to spread. Why did some people think it was safe to stay? What would you have done?

4. The color yellow is used throughout the story. What does it symbolize? What other symbols are used in the book?

5. What do you think will happen to Mattie, her mother, and friends in 1794? What will their lives look like in 1800? In 1813?

6. During the Revolutionary War, women took on tasks that were traditionally performed by men. After the war they were expected to go back to their spinning wheels and kitchens. How are Maggie’s dreams in conflict with what her society expects of young women? Why does Maggie’s mother want a different life for her daughter?

7. The Free African Society volunteered to take care of the sick and bury the dead, even though there was no cure for yellow fever. Why did they do that? Would you have helped?

Projects and Research

• Mattie was born in 1776, Make a time line of Mattie’s life and the history of the United States.
• Philadelphia was home to the largest population of free African-Americans in the United States. Research how escaped slaves made their way to Philadelphia. When did these routes become the Underground Railroad? Make a multimedia presentation using music from the late 1700’s.

Language Arts
• Rewrite a scene from Eliza’s point of view.
• Make a list of words they used in 1793 that we don’t use today, such as “balderdash” and “bunkum.” What words that we use today might sound strange and old-fashioned in the year 2200?

• Calculate how many people died in the yellow fever epidemic. Compare the mortality rate with that of the 1918 influenza epidemic and the AIDS epidemic.

• Research the work of Dr. Walter Reed. How do mosquitoes spread yellow fever?? What other diseases do mosquitoes spread? Why aren’t all diseases spread this way?

Classroom Activity
• Put on a tea party like the Ogilvies did, or turn your classroom into the Cook Coffeehouse. Use recipes from the late 1700’s and invite the community?

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

(c) Susanne Kronholm

Laurie Halse Anderson is a New York Times bestselling author known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity. She’s twice been a National Book Award finalist, for Chains and SpeakChains also received the 2009 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Laurie was chosen for the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award and received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2023, presented to her by the Crown Princess of Sweden. She lives in Pennsylvania, and you can follow her adventures on X (previously known as Twitter) @HalseAnderson or visit her at 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (March 1, 2002)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780689848919
  • Ages: 10 - 14

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Raves and Reviews

School Library Journal starred review Readers will be drawn in by the characters and will emerge with a sharp and graphic picture of another world.

The New York Times Book Review A gripping story about living morally under the shadow of rampant death.

VOYA A vivid work, rich with well-drawn characters.

The New York Times Book Review The plot rages like the epidemic itself.

Awards and Honors

  • ILA Teachers' Choices
  • California Young Reader Medal Nominee
  • Maud Hart Lovelace Award Nominee (MN)
  • Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List
  • CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book
  • ALA Best Books For Young Adults
  • Storytelling World Award
  • Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults
  • Children's Literature Choice List
  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year
  • NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
  • Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee (IN)
  • Massachusetts Children's Book Award
  • Beehive Award Master List (UT)
  • Texas Tayshas High School Reading List
  • Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee (NJ)
  • Nutmeg Book Award Nominee (CT)
  • NYPL Best Books for Teens
  • Great Lakes Great Books Master List (MI)
  • Nevada Young Readers' Award Nominee
  • Volunteer State Book Award Nominee (TN)
  • Golden Sower Award Nominee (NE)
  • Sunshine State Young Readers' Award List (FL)
  • Georgia Children's Book Award Finalist
  • Jefferson Cup Award Honor Title (VA)
  • Mark Twain Award Final Nominee (MO)
  • Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award (IL)
  • Amelia Bloomer List
  • South Dakota Young Adult Reading Program

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