Conversion by Katherine Howe, review by Melissa Fox
I have known about Katherine Howe for a long time -- she wrote The Physick
Book of Deliverance Dane after all -- and have told myself I ought to give her a try.
Thankfully, she recently wrote a new novel mixing historical and contemporary fiction for teens that gave me the perfect excuse to see what all the fuss is about her writing.
Colleen Rowley is a senior at St. Joan's Academy, a high-profile, all-girls school in Danvers, Massachusetts. As you can expect, there is loads of stress on the students at a school like that. And Colleen -- who is a tenth out of valedictorian position -- feels that pressure. As do many of her classmates.
Then one nondescript day in February, something strange happens. Many of Colleen's classmates -- from the most popular girl in school to one of Colleen's circle of friends -- 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.
However, Colleen, spurred on by some anonymous texts, is suspicious. And when she starts looking into the historical events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials (particularly the confession of Ann Putnam), she finds that there is possibly a connection to what's happening in Danvers now, and what happened in Salem back then.
The story lines alternate between the events at St. Joan's and a fictionalized retelling of Ann Putnam's convession. Howe 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.
And I have to say that I understand the fuss about Howe's writing. She captures both historical detail and contemporary teenagers believably, which made this book a complete joy to read. Now, I just need to make the time to read her other books.