Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 1, 2002
SET IN PHILADELPHIA
This is a classic coming-of-age story in a historical setting and whilst the narrative itself is rather formulaic, it is very well researched and would give younger readers plenty of historical perspective.
It follows Mattie Cook, a 14 year old girl who gets caught up in the Philadelphia yellow fever outbreak of 1793 and learns to survive despite the odds. There’s action, a bit of highly sanitized teenage romance and a healthy dollop of familial relationships.
The aspects that are most appealing in this YA novel mean that it will probably hit home more with girls than boys. It explores what it means to be a ‘good girl,’ expectations of behaviour and mother daughter relationships in a manner that clearly links the past and present. The change in Mattie as she learns to take care of herself and grows up is dealt with well and doesn’t bash you over the head with obvious metaphor. It is also somewhat convenient that by telling the story of the plague through the eyes of a child, Anderson is able to side skip much of the political implications of the time – everyone is stripped back to common humanity despite class and race.
Overall this is a sound read but I can see how some readers might become frustrated with the fact that the main events – people falling sick and everyone else turning into either nurses or looters, could become repetitive.