Review: Conversion by Katherine Howe

Image from Goodreads
Image from Goodreads
Title: Conversion
Author: Katherine Howe 
Publisher: Oneworld Publications 
Publication Date: June 2014 
Source: Review Copy 
Rating: 4/5 
Synopsis from Goodreads
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 with 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? 

REVIEW BY TOMOS 8X1

Based on real life events, Conversion follows the story of a teenage girl, Colleen Rowley, who lives in Danvers, MA. Colleen is in her last academic year of a very prestigious high school, St Joan’s Academy. Our initial encounter with Colleen finds her in a battle to obtain a crucial place at Harvard University. As if the situation wasn’t stressful enough, weird occurrences start to happen at the school. A mystery illness is sweeping its way through the students leaving terror in its wake. The weird symptoms are frightening to all concerned and baffling the doctors desperate to get answers.

The book is divided between the past and present of St Joan’s Academy, each interlude is quite short leaving the reader wanting more from each time-frame. While the main character is Colleen, we also have a different view-point for the past events in the form of Ann in 1706. As the reader has the advantage of being able to view both time frames, it soon becomes apparent that the mystery illness has occurred before!!

The plot is gripping and maintains the tension throughout, the mystery element concerning the illness had me guessing and trying to predict the plot. As much as I enjoyed the mystery element of the story it was the characters portrayal that really stood out for me. The characters were very realistic with real-life problems woven with the supernatural elements within the narrative. the contrast between the life of a ‘normal’ young adult and the mystery illness worked very well. The situation itself was unexpected, a very odd catastrophe within a simple school setting.

I have to say that the inclusion of Ann’s story from 1706 was a little confusing to start with due mostly to being so invested in the events happening to Colleen. As the story progressed I did find the additional story beneficial in understanding the incidents Colleen faced, providing insight and understanding to a degree.

To give credit to the author, Katherine Howe has really done her research and it shined within Conversion providing an enlightening re-imagining of the Salem Witch Trials. There are a huge number of theories and possibilities surrounding these events, Katherine adds her own touch to the underlying story making it unique, original and fantastic. In my opinion making the events more relatable and realistic within contemporary society. Add in the fact that Katherine is herself a descendant of not one but two women accused of being witches in the Salem Witch Trials and you can’t help but be completely fascinated by the outcome of the story. I would love to gain further insight into the other theories surrounding the Salem Witch Trials.

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