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

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