Fever by Mary Beth Keane


Fever is a great period piece.  Meet Typhoid Mary, the real person, and get her side of the Typhoid epidemic.  Mary emigrates from Ireland as a teenager to New York City, and gets a laundry job.  She works her way up to cooking, and as she moves from job to job, so too does the coincidental (or not) outbreak of Typhoid.  When she is connected to the epidemic, she is arrested and taken to Brother Island for quarantine.  There, she lives in a small house built for her near the water, and is treated kindly by the gardener who delivers her meals.  She is denied visits by friends, but manages to secure a lawyer, who manages to obtain her freedom as long as she agrees not to cook again.  Mary goes back to her life, but ends up cooking again, still believing she is not passing Typhoid along to those who eat her food.  She is oddly endearing, despite the fact that I believed she was spreading Typhoid, and despite the many bad choices she makes.

What I found interesting:  Mary doesn’t make lifestyle choices that do her any favors or that match the morals of her era, and is thought less of because of these choices.  She already has a stigma before the suspicions about Typhoid are developed.  She is saved by the kindness of people who, while they believe she is a carrier, believe she is entitled to certain unalienable rights, and will fight for those rights, even when their motivation is more altruistic than any other characters in book.  Finally, how did people not know about hand washing and getting rid of garbage.  It is amazing to see how far we have come in terms of sanitation and hygiene!  Mid book, my 8-year-old told me she thought she caught a cold from using the pencils at school because not everyone remembered to use hand sanitizer before using the pencils.  There is a message to send back in time!