Conversion

by Katherine Howe
First sentence: “How long must I wait?”
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Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss
Content: There is some mild swearing, and talk of sex, but nothing actual. It’d be happy in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I might put it in Teen (grades 9+) so I can get the adult crossover.

Colleen Rowley is a senior at St. Joan’s Academy, a high-profile, all-girls school in Danvers, Massachusetts. Everything is going great… mostly. Colleen is a tenth out of valedictorian position, something which stresses her out because her college acceptance to Harvard (only one of many Ivy League schools that have wait-listed her) is hinging on her senior year academic performance. She’s not the only one under pressure; all of her friends and many of her classmates are as well.

And then something strange happens: Colleen’s classmates, one by one, succumb to a mysterious illness that pulls them out of school. Some develop Turette’s Sydrome-like tics, others loose the use of their legs; still others’ hair is falling out. It’s an epidemic. Except Colleen, spurred on by some anonymous texts, is suspicious. And when she starts looking into the real events behind The Crucible, which they’re studying, especially Ann Putnam’s story, she finds that there is possibly a connection to what’s happening in Danvers now, and what happened in Salem back then.

Told in alternating storylines, Howe gives us both the story of the girls of St. Joan’s and Ann Putnam’s confession about the incident that began what came to be called the Salem Witch trials. She doesn’t spell things out for the reader; instead, she trusts our intelligence and in our ability to draw parallels between the two stories. And although the characters — especially Colleen and her friends — are quite sympathetic, it’s finding the parallels and solving the mystery that fascinated me most about this book.

Unfortunately, the ending didn’t hold up to the rest of the book. Howe kind of goes off into muddle-land, and doesn’t hold up to the suspense that the book built. Even so, it wasn’t enough to completely kill the book for me (it was more of a “HUH?” moment). And it’s made me curious about Howe’s adult books, which is a good thing.

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