Thursday, September 16, 2010

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

Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray; 1 edition (June 29, 2010)

Book summary: A Printz Honor winner presents a fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials based on the real historical characters, told from the perspective of three young women living in Salem in 1692--Mercy Lewis, Margaret Walcott, and Ann Putnam Jr. 

My review: The power of cliques is a prevalent theme throughout Wicked Girls. In the male dominated Puritan society of 1692 a group of seven teen and preteen girls start out having fun by pretending to be 'Afflicted'. Fearful adults take notice and the girls suddenly realize they have power. By twitching and crying out "witch!" they wreak havoc on the townspeople. But once a lie is told another has to be told to cover up the first and so on--until things become disastrous. With their newfound power they gather to discuss their next moves and who will be singled out next. Unfortunately, the adults scared of discovering the Devil amongst themselves never dig deeper to see the 'devils' standing before them.

Written entirely in prose, Wicked Girls is told through the viewpoints of three teens: Mercy, Margaret and Ann. Upon closer inspection one sees those accused are simply chosen for personal reasons like anger, jealousy, desire and friendship. Petty and immature reasons, but over time people they falsely accuse are hanged (a whopping 19 in all!). As guilty consciences take over, their clique falls apart. The girls begin to point at each other, acting like predecessors to today's bullies and 'mean girls'. Ann, at 12, is the most disturbing with her cold and calculating attitude as the group's ringleader.

As much as I found the story fascinating I felt distant from the characters, more like a bystander than a participant in this novel, and had wanted to learn more about these girls' emotional states and their reasoning.

Still, Hemphill has created a disturbing and harrowing tale of female empowerment gone wrong and its repercussions in Wicked Girls. By fictionalizing the girls' back-stories and fusing them with historical accounts gives the reader a unique interpretation of the Salem Witch Trials. The Author's Note in the back of the novel also offers insight and more information on the Trials.

Favorite excerpt: (From page 89, ARC edition)
Ann Putnam Jr., 12

"What is good about witches
is that when I call out "Mother,"
Mother listens and replies,
"Yes, dear Ann."
And when I do say
I see the Invisible World
Father doth bend an ear
and hold me upon his lap.
But what is most amazing
about Affliction
is that Mercy is come along now
as my sister.
She eats beside me at the table.
We sit in meeting and examination as kin.

Rating: +++1/2

Cover comment: I like it. I like how the model has her eyes closed, fingers to her face as if she's in thought. After reading about these girls, the cover conveys the essence of their stories brilliantly.

Book source: Traveling ARC tours


  1. Thanks for the great review. I did not realize that this book was written in prose. It sounds interesting enough... I like things about the Salem Witch Trials.

  2. Nice review! I think I'd like to read it. Thanks for sharing