Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials...random thoughts

Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials by Stephanie Hemphill.

It was just luck that dropped this book into my lap. Luck, in the form of a 13-year-old daughter, that is. I had never heard of this book until Annie brought it home from the library a couple weeks ago.

A couple years ago, Annie developed a fascination with the Salem Witch Trials...a fascination I fully related to--remembering the days when I was her age. But truthfully, it's a fascination I never quite outgrew...I just don't actively seek out new books on the subject these days. But it was, for example, with great joy that I got to introduce Annie to The Crucible a couple years back. :)

But what is it that makes the horrible events of this time so intriguing? For me, I think it's the myriad of unanswered questions. We will never truly know the motivations of these young girls. What resulted because of their actions is unforgivable. But why? Why would they do what they did? Why would they send innocent people to their deaths? Why why why?

Wicked Girls is yet another speculative journey into the minds of the young accusers. Written in free verse style, it read unlike any other novelization of these events I've encountered. It wasn't all that long ago that novels in verse made me quite wary, but with a handful now under my belt, I can honestly say that I quite enjoy the form.

Hemphill told the story through the voices of three of the "afflicted"--Mercy Lewis, Ann Putnam Jr., and Mary Walcott (called Margaret in the book). And they are definitely three distinct voices. With three different backgrounds. With three different probable futures. All of these things are explored, not overtly but subtlely, as we watch the story unfold. It is easy to see how all of these things might come into play as motivations, both conscious and unconscious, for each of these girls. And the complicated and ever-changing relationships among the girls shine even more potential light on the reasons why things might have unfolded the way they did.

Perhaps what I loved most in its exploration, however, was the look at the life of women in general at this time. Hemphill doesn't come out and say, "Look, their lives sucked, so it's inevitable these girls would behave this way." Obviously, that's ridiculous. But she gives us glimpse after glimpse after glimpse into the lack of power these girls had over anything in their lives...that is, until they became revered for their ability to see witches...

It goes without saying that this is a complicated topic. And we never will know all the answers. But I think it's a good thing that we do continue to try to understand. After all, using the less literal meaning, witch hunts still occur today.


  1. I love books that deal with the Salem Witch Trials too. It has always grabbed my attention. Definitely one for me.

  2. Wow! I have this one sitting on my shelves as we speak, and I had no idea it was written in verse! Bad me. Definitely even MORE interested in reading it now.

  3. I've always been so interested in the Salem witch trials, but can you believe that I hardly know anything about them? I've just never taken the time to research them. I bet I would just love this book! This looks like one that Annie might be responsible for sending through the blogosphere like wildfire through you!

  4. This looks really good. I have never heard of it before, but I might have to check it out! I went through a period where I was obsessed with the Salem witch trials. I have read a lot of great books about it over the years, but I haven't been paying as much attention more recently. I am going to have to fix that!

  5. This looks really fantastic, and I've never heard of it! I started getting interested in books about Salem a couple of years ago after visiting the town itself. I'll have to see if my local library has this one. Thanks for the review.

  6. Sounds really good Debi--and intriguing about the free verse style!

    I've always had a fascination with the Salem Witch Trials and have had the luck to visit Salem a few times (though the trials didn't actually take place in the town). I agree that it's a lot of what is unknown about the time and what was going on with these girls that is what makes the subject so intriguing!

    Love the cover of this one...

  7. This actually showed up for me from the publisher..I ended up on their list somehow but I have to admit when I saw it was written in verse, I was a bit frightened. However, your review certainly states quite the case for it, so I think I'll give it a try. It's the right time of year for sure!