Friday, September 05, 2014

Review: Conversion by Katherine Howe (audio)

Title: Conversion   
Author: Katherine Howe   
Narrator: Khristine Hvam  
Published: July 2014, Penguin Audio
Length: 13 hours 30 minutes   
Source: Personal copy via Audible 

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane comes a chilling mystery—Prep meets The Crucible.

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 wit 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?

My thoughts: I typically don't read YA books, but I picked this one up after hearing it compared to Megan Abbott's The Fever, which I really enjoyed.  I had heard that both authors used the same ripped-from-the-headlines event as the basis for their novels - the mysterious twitching girls of Le Roy, NY.

What I found, though, as I listened to this story, is that Katherine Howe takes a completely different approach to this mass hysteria. Being a direct descendent of women accused of being witches during the Salem Witch Trials back in the late 1600s, she expertly weaves her tale between the two time periods. She even sets the story in the town of Danvers, MA, which used to be called Salem.

The story alternates between two narrators. Colleen Rowley tells the present day story and gives us eye-witness accounts of the girls falling ill and how the school is reacting. Ann Putnam is the other narrator and her story is from the past. She was involved in the witch trials and felt compelled to unburden her guilty conscience to the new pastor in town. I loved how the story moved back and forth between the two, even bringing in The Crucible to the mix. Now, I admit, I've never actually read this book, but now it is going on my TBR list.

I've always been intrigued by the Salem Witch Trials and loved that Katherine Howe was able to take this headline and weave her tale around it. Now I have a hankering for more books about this topic (besides The Crucible.) - any suggestions? 

While this review isn't meant to be a comparison between Katherine Howe's Conversion and Megan Abbott's The Fever, I just want to make this one last point. I love when authors take on the same topics but put their own spin on it. This is clearly what happened here. You typically find this happening a lot in historical fiction, but to see it with current events is refreshing. I quite enjoyed both books for different reasons and both authors were new-to-me. Because of this, I now have 2 more authors that I will be seeking out in the future.

Audio Thoughts: This is the first audio I've listened to narrated by Khristine Hvam and I have to say, I'm now a fan. I had heard good things about her narrations and now I can join in on that bandwagon. She did a great job with this book and I will definitely be looking to see what else she has narrated.


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