Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials (Review)

September 30, 2010

Book cover for "Wicked Girls" by Stephanie Hemphill.Title: Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials

Author: Stephanie Hemphill

Publication Year: 2010

Pages: 416

Genre: Fiction, Novel in Verse, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Source: Purchased from Chapters.ca

From the cover:

What started out as girls’ games became a witch hunt. Wicked Girls is a fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials told from the perspectives of three of the real young women living in Salem in 1692.

Ann Putnam Jr. plays the queen bee. When her father suggests that a spate of illnesses within the village is the result of witchcraft, Ann grasps her opportunity. She puts in motion a chain of events that will change the lives of the people around her forever.

Mercy Lewis, the beautiful servant in Ann’s house, inspires adulation in some and envy in others. With a troubled past, she seizes her only chance at safety.

Margaret Walcott, Ann’s cousin, is desperately in love and consumed with fiery jealousy. She is torn between staying loyal to her friends and pursuing the life she dreams of with her betrothed.

With new accusations mounting daily against the men and women of the community, the girls will have to decide: Is it too late to tell the truth?

I’m sad about this book. Not about the book itself, although it was definitely a sad tale. And not about the characters in the book, though they had sad tales of their own as well. Also, not about the “real” Salem witch trials that Hemphill tries to depict a side of, even though those were infinitely more sad than reading about it will ever be able to teach you. No, what I am sad about is … that I took so long to read this book!

Wicked Girls is a fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials, wherein Hemphill puts forward a possible explanation for why the girls made the accusations that they did. Instead of blaming their “fits” on real witchcraft, epilepsy, mold on bread, or any of the other typical explanations for the trials, Hemphill puts forth a rather interesting proposition: that the dynamics of the “girl group” is what brought about the accusations.

I really loved this take on the story of the Afflicted girls and their accusations. It felt plausible to me: the dynamics in a group of girls can be a very powerful thing, and not always in a good way. The three main characters in Wicked Girls – Ann, Mercy, and Margaret – interact in very specific ways both which each other and with the other girls they know. These interactions are ruled largely by class and social prominence, and the power struggles are apparently right from the get-go. Hemphill made the characters all flawed in their own ways, which was nice to see, and added a layer of depth that is usually not so readily available in YA novels.

At the beginning, I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy the verse style, but it kind of grew on me. The style of the writing helped me to differentiate between the way the different characters thought and acted, even though I sometimes had to read a section more than once to make sure I knew what was said “out loud” and what was more of an internal thought or quiet chat between two characters. This brought about a level of intimacy with the characters that I hadn’t been expecting: even as I wanted to shake the girls and make them realize the pain and suffering that they were causing the women (and men) they were accusing of witchcraft, I also wanted to help them out with their own problems and bring them some happiness.

Wicked Girls isn’t just a book about the Salem witch trials, though it does that well. It’s also a book about the power dynamics and peer pressure that so often exists in groups of girls, particularly in societies where women are typically powerless even within the spheres of their own lives. It’s a scary look, but intriguing nonetheless.

Rating:

2 Comments

  • Amy October 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I’m glad this book was so good! I have it here to read, just keep putting it off for some reason.

  • Ruth Hill October 1, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    I just became your follower. I found you over on semicolon’s book review link up. I have added this book to my to-read list. Check out my blog some time if you like.

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