June 22, 2014

Review: Conversion

Fact: If I see a YA novel that deals with the Salem Witch Trials in any way, I am going to read it. I love a good witchy read, but most especially a read dealing with this time period, so when I saw that not only was there a YA novel dealing with one of my favorite subjects but also was written by Katherine Howe, I may have squeed a little.

I went into this novel with the idea that I was going to really enjoy it. And guess what? I did.

Title: ‘Conversion’
Author: Katherine Howe
Pages: 432
Publisher: Putnam Juveline
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Penguin First-to-Read

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane comes a chilling mystery—Prep meets The Crucible.

It’s senior year at St. Joan’s Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian, deciphering boys’ texts: Through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can’t.

First it’s the school’s queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan’s buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.

Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen—who’s been reading
The Crucible for extra credit—comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago...

Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school—
Conversion casts a spell. With her signature wit and passion, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe delivers an exciting and suspenseful novel, a chilling mystery that raises the question, what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?

My Thoughts:

I am always looking for YA novels to tie into what I teach in my classroom. It helps me establish “street cred” with my kids, that what we do in the classroom does spill into other parts of the world. Especially when it comes to YA. After all, if writers find ideas to be important enough to make a YA novel out of it, then it must be important. Right?

This book is a perfect tie-in to my teaching 'The Crucible.'

The Goodreads description says this book is 'The Crucible' meets 'Prep,' and I'm cannot comment on that because I've never read 'Prep.' What I can say is that I really enjoyed this book.

For me, Howe wove together a masterful tale of contemporary issues and a confession of truth. Between each chapter is the tale of Ann Putnam, the only girl from the Salem Witch Trials time to actually publicly apologize (according to all of the research I have done), so while readers are thrust into a mystery, Howe unravels a historical one for readers.

While the center of the story revolves around what is making the girls fall ill, the secret element sprinkled throughout is a mystery of another kind, one that ties back to Salem Village during a time when witches and witchcraft were a real threat. Is that what is happening now, or is there something else at work?

And the same question remains the same between the two interwoven time periods: are the girls faking?

Colleen is the star of the novel, and I really enjoyed her character. She is on the hunt for the truth, and there are a lot of truths throughout. She is on the hunt to find puzzle pieces and to place them in the right form. She wants to uncover the truth before she becomes the next one to fall.

Howe does not keep readers engaged in one story but in several. There are stories juggling throughout, and I thought that really spoke to Howe understand the life of a teen. Teens do not worry about a single element—they worry about family, friends, grades, college, future, etc. These are all of the things that readers will see Colleen juggle as she tries to sift through it all for truth.

Usually in children/tween/YA novels, parents are a tricky business to write. Frankly, sometimes they just get in the way of the storytelling. Not the case in this novel. They are essential to Howe's purpose. As a high school teacher, I have seen, heard, and experienced a lot from parents. I felt that Howe was honest in her portrayal of parental reaction to the events affecting their children, their accusations toward the school as a result, etc.

I enjoyed Howe's characterization of stress. You read that correctly. Stress. Report after report says that teen stress is at an all time high, and Howe puts the students of St. Joan's into a pressure cooker...one that is ready for an explosion of epic proportions.

Does that sound familiar?

Do I recommend this book?

Enthusiastically! I recommend this book to any reader who enjoys historical fiction, witchy themes, the Salem Witch Trials, 'The Crucible.'

I also recommend this novel to anyone who remembers the events that inspired the writing of this novel because Howe takes a very interesting approach to explain the unexplainable.

Share your favorite witchy read below. I am always looking for new, interesting ones to read.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

Review: The Here and Now

Title: ‘The Here and Now’
Author: Ann Brashares
Pages: 242
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

An unforgettable epic romantic thriller about a girl from the future who might be able to save the world . . . if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

My Thoughts:

This book, I loved it. I found the plot interesting and engaging. Brashares had me from page one. This novel is not character-driven nor plot-driven. These two are a perfect marriage. They work together to deliver a solid dystopian tale. One that will have readers re-think sitting on the back porch during the hot summer months, where mosquitoes wait for their next meal.

Prenna is a character a lot of teen readers will be able to connect with—from her core, she wants to do the right thing. She wants to follow the rules.

Enter Ethan. He is not of her world; therefore, even speaking to him is a violation of the rules. But he is fascinated by Prenna, and he makes time to spend with her. Soon the two become close friends, and Prenna finds herself in constant trouble.

Rules are rules. They are in place to protect the people of the present as well to protect the future. A future that will not be there because of the destruction of mankind by mosquito.

Prenna and Ethan's friendship represents a complication—a major one that could result in the destruction of man even sooner than expected.

Prenna wants to discover the truth about the world she came from and what the future may hold. She is curious, and this is not something that is valued among her “people.”

They must protect themselves at all costs. All. Costs. Even if that means sacrificing Prenna.

There are secrets that must be kept. There is a future to protect.

But, are they doing all they can to protect that future? After all, what's the point of traveling back in time if it is not to work to make sure there is a future worth saving?

Do I recommend this book?

Absolutely. I especially recommend this book to readers of dystopia.

I love dystopia, and it is rare that I read one that I do not enjoy. I enjoy seeing how authors imagine the destruction of the world, and how their character creations work to save it. I find them almost cautionary tales of what could happen if we do not protect ourselves now.

And for this one, this destruction comes in the form of something so common, so simple, something we all experience: the mosquito.

Share your favorite dystopian read. I am always looking for new, interesting ones to read.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator