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CJ Reviews Conversion by Katherine Howe

ConversionTitle: Conversion
Auther: Katherine Howe
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3.5 stars

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 . . . (Goodreads)

I had requested an ARC of this book last year, but unfortunately wasn’t chosen, but I finally got around to purchasing a copy for myself and reading it. I had really enjoyed Howe’s Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, so I was really looking forward to this one as well. I love the amount of research Howe has done for her books, and the way she weaves modern stories with the history of the Salem Witch Trials. Not only is it the perfect time of year to be reading about witches, but I thought this would also make a nice companion to Stacey Schiff’s The Witches, which I am also presently reading.

While I can’t say that I was disappointed in this book, it also didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I really liked the parallel narrative structure – the flashbacks to Ann Putnam Jr. sharing what really happened in 1692 (how the girls faked everything) was interesting, and it did run parallel to what I was reading in Schiff’s book as well, which made it easier to tell that Howe had done her research.

While I found the historical narrative interesting, unfortunately the modern day narrative was less so. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was boring, but it didn’t grab me the way I thought it might, and the story itself moved much slower than I had anticipated. It wasn’t a slow read, it just seemed to take forever for anything to really happen, then once it did everything happened almost too quickly and the book was over. I was also left feeling like the ending was a little anticlimactic and too open for interpretation. Sometimes I can appreciate when an author leaves you to determine what happened (The Dead House is a good, recent example) but in this case it just left me feeling confused and disappointed.

I had expected this novel to be a creepy supernatural tale of witchcraft that pulled it’s inspiration from the Salem Witch Trials. I don’t believe I was creeped out once while reading this novel – and I read it before bed each night, so if it was going to creep me out at all, it would have then. In the end the novel just was not at all what I had expected; in fact, I think it was probably the opposite of what I was expecting, depending on your interpretation of the ending. I would have been happier if it had gone just a little further into the supernatural territory and ended with a more definitive conclusion.

For those who like their YA with a dash of romance, there was that element as well. One of the things I really liked about this novel was that the main character’s romance was definitely more supplemental than a main aspect of the story. There were a couple other romantic storylines that felt a little more awkward. However, overall the romance was not the driving force behind the plot of the novel (at least, not technically, depending on your interpretation of the ending), which is usually just the way I like it in a YA novel.

I didn’t hate this book; it was a fairly quick read and there were some elements that were quite good – the historical narrative in particular. I was just disappointed that it wasn’t what I had expected. If I had gone into it without any expectations I may have enjoyed it much more. This is one of those books where, if you’re intrigued by the description I do not want to discourage you from reading it, because I am sure others will enjoy it more than I did.

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