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Themes

When Fever, 1793 begins, fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook is a teenager from head to toe. This means that her life is made up of a series of changes, transformations, and metamorphoses. She's going through a growth spurt, she's noticing boys (ahem, Nathaniel Benson?), and she's challenging authority (read: her mother) in a big way. Oh the joys of being in between childhood and adulthood!

But along with the usual teenage transformations, Mattie is caught up in some larger transformations that will really jumpstart her journey down the road to adulthood. The city is turned upside down with a fever epidemic: day becomes night and night becomes day. Mattie begins to see death and suffering on a daily basis. In the midst of the chaos, Mattie has to re-evaluate her priorities and take control of her growth. She takes on many more responsibilities and begins making her own choices. For Mattie, becoming an adult means not only physically growing, but learning to care for others, to make sacrifices, and to make the right decisions.

Questions About Transformations

  1. What kind of transformations does the city of Philadelphia undergo during the fever outbreak?
  2. How does Mattie's idea of family transform in this novel?
  3. Why is the image of Mattie's garden important? How is it transformed in the novel over and over again?
  4. What does being an adult mean to Mattie? Is it simply about putting on one of mother's dresses? (Which, remember, Mattie does.)

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The transformation into adulthood is about learning to care for others.

Some changes happen to us, and other changes we make happen ourselves. It's the latter that turns us into adults.

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