I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Conversion by Katherine Howe
Published by Penguin on 2014-07-01
Genres: Friendship, Horror & Ghost Stories, School & Education, Social Issues, Young Adult
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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?
One of my favorite periods of American History to learn about is the Salem Witch Trials because of the very human drama involved. Thus, when I come across a book with the Salem Witch Trials as a theme, I make a note to read the book. Conversion by Katherine Howe follows a dual storyline, one set in 2012 and the other set in 1706, after the Salem Witch Trials but featuring a key player making a confession about the trials. Howe’s young adult debut is literary, smart, and well plotted, perfect for fans of historical fiction and stories about girls who go to elite prep schools.
Colleen goes to the elite St. Joan’s school for girls in Danvers, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. She is on track to be class valedictorian and is aiming for admission to Harvard. A mysterious illness breaks out among Colleen’s fellow students and threatens to interfere with her best laid plans. What’s going on? A play assigned to Colleen’s AP US History class, The Crucible by Arthur Miller may just hold the answers. Meanwhile, Conversion contains a dual plotline featuring Ann Putnam, a young woman who is confessing what really happened during the Salem Witch Trials to the Reverend Green. Ann is one of the girls who was under a spell and making all kinds of accusations during this time period. And so, her plotline moves between the time of her confession, 20 years after the trials and during the trials.
To be honest, it was hard for me to connect with Colleen’s character. Sure, she is driven. Sure, she is kind of concerned about the illnesses. However, she holds us all at arm’s length. I never felt any strong emotion out of her. There are parts where we can see that she really cares about her friends who are afflicted, but otherwise, I felt like she was very passive. Colleen truly comes alive and gets more interesting when she is in the presence of Spence, a boy from this boarding school who is good friend’s with her friend Anjali’s boyfriend Jason. I would have liked it if Colleen did not need a boyfriend to be interesting.
As for the other point of view character, Ann, I thought she was marginally more interesting. At first, when she begins making her confession and recounting what really went down, she is on the fringes. Then, we see Ann play a larger and larger role. We see that she is this morally gray person. She’s ambiguous. I like that. I like that there’s more to analyze and think about when it comes to Ann. She’s a girl who lies about other people, condemning them to death and eventually begins to believe her own falsehoods.
Katherine Howe’s writing translates quite well for a young adult audience. Even though I did not feel very connected to the main character, Colleen, I kept turning the pages of Conversion, compelled to find out more about the mystery illness. I loved the different aspects Howe pulled in — from media involvement and how that shapes the perception of the disease to an analyzation of the pressure faced by teenage girls to essentially be perfect. It’s executed really well, especially the parallel drawn between modern day pressure and the Salem Witch Trials. If you’re looking for a smart book to hand your college bound teenager, Conversion by Katherine Howe is a great place to start, especially paired with The Crucible.