Monday, January 10, 2011

Finishing Becca and Fever 1793

Finishing Becca by Ann Rinaldi
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Finished January and February, 2o11

Another pair of books that were read one right after the other, but not quite as serendipitously as the last pair I read. I chose Finishing Becca because it was sitting on my shelf at home and I needed a book to read. I almost picked it up without looking at what it was. I'd never read an Ann Rinaldi book before, although I recommend her books quite often at the library. So, it was about time that I walked (or read) my talk. I chose to read Fever 1793 next because I was still in the mood for historical fiction and it's been on my I-need-to-read-this list for a long time. It's a total coincidence that both books are set in the late 18th century Philadelphia.

Finishing Becca is, according to subtitle, "a story about Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold." Becca Syng is the handmaid to Peggy. Becca's mother had been a woman of means, and a part of wealthy Philadelphia. After her husband (Becca's father) died, she married a simple farmer and became one of the lower class. In hopes that Becca can receive "finishing" as a young woman and exposure to the upper classes, she agrees to have Becca serve as handmaid to the spoiled daughter of the Shippen family.

I remember seeing a biography of Benedict Arnold on The Biography Channel, before they became The [celebrity] Biography Channel. Not remembering very much about Arnold, besides that he was a traitor, I was surprised to learn that he was actually a war hero and that his second wife had much to do with his becoming a traitor. This is a view of Arnold that isn't accepted by all historians. Rinaldi acknowledges that this is a bit of a controversial theory among some historians, but it is the theory that she follows in her story of Shippen and Arnold.

This book didn't receive very favorable reviews and I agree with some of the criticism. The book ended too quickly and by means of a really unimaginative plot device. Still, I liked the book a lot and will read more Ann Rinaldi.

Fever 1793 is written for a younger audience. At first I wasn't as taken with it as I had been with Finishing Becca. But as the story developed, I became hooked. This is the story of the great yellow fever epidemic of 1793. It was a devastating plague that wiped out thousands of people.

Mattie Cook's mother and grandfather run a Philadelphia coffehouse. Mattie is a typical 13 year old. She doesn't want to work and can't abide her mother's constant nagging and orders. Everything changes when people around town begin falling ill. Mattie's mother sends her and her grandfather to the country, to which many citizens have already escaped. But Mattie and her grandfather never make it. They are mistaken for fever victims and thrown out of the wagon that was taking them to a friend's farm.

The rest of the story is Mattie's journey back home and how she deals with life in the decimated city, waiting until the first frost which will end the epidemic.

What a desperate situation these people were in. Medicine had not evolved to the point beyond blood letting and prescribing mercury. Laurie Halse Anderson does such a good job of presenting the story in an authentic historical setting. When I first picked this book up I thought that Rindaldi's book blew this one away. I have changed my mind. While I enjoyed both, Fever 1793 was a much better book.

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