A Tricky Novel | Review of ‘Conversion’


By: Cynthia Ayala

A novel that takes two timelines to bring to life the Salem Witch Trials in a modern age as young girls begin to suffer a mysterious illness.  Conversion has a brilliant execution and presents a very good plot line.  The only downside is the sacrifice Howe makes in regards to character dynamics.

062614_1852_ATrickyNove1.pngAuthor: Katherine Howe

Published: July 1, 2014

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery/Thriller, Paranormal

Something strange is happening to the girls of St. Joan’s High School. One by one the girls are stuck by a mysterious illness that gains the attention of the local news, and when one girl, who struggles to win the valedictorian spot, begins research on an extra credit project, she discovers that nothing is as it seems and that one of her friends hides a dark secret.

Published July 1st 2014 by Putnam Juvenile, a sector of Penguin Books, ‘Conversion’, written by Katherine Howe, is a young adult novel that ties in genres such as contemporary fiction, historical fiction, mystery and the paranormal to weave two interlocking stories.

This is a very interesting novel that splits not only between past and present but also between two very indistinct personalities and narratives. As this novel begins in the past, sometime after the Salem Witch Trials, yet another grisly affair that is rooted in the past of society, readers are introduced to the forgotten figure Ann Putnam Jr., an accuser in the Salem Witch Trials. In regards to the past storyline, for any who are interested in the Salem Witch Trials, readers will find it a fascinating read as Howe brings to life the pains of the past through the eyes of Ann Putnam. Throughout the novel, these sections come in as Interlude’s to build the plot and to show a symmetry between the past and the present. Ann’s sections in the novel provide a misdirection for the reader to keep the present timeline that follows Colleen interesting and suspenseful. The dialect and Howe’s usage of the proper linguistics is applaudable due to the fact that she did not sacrifice 17/18th century dialect for the sake of a more modern age, and that is essential when writing a historical fiction novel, even if it’s only in parts throughout the novel.

Now, onto Colleen’s perspective. Her sections through the novel are a little rattling as readers are thrown into her narrative. It opens with Colleen in her homeroom and the teacher, guidance counselor, for these girls is talking but as readers we don’t know what he’s talking about and what he’s addressing and there are other instances throughout the novel that are like that. It’s jarring for the reader because the reader won’t know what’s going on since there are a lack of scene specifics in the novel and a certain lack of attribution. Other characters in the novel are left unwritten, readers don’t get to really understand many of their motivations because it’s as though the main character herself doesn’t really know who her best friends are, and that’s a little unbelievable because while people in reality may not know everything about others, the essential part here is Colleen knows nothing about her best friend, and that doesn’t come off the pages well. It’s underdeveloped relationship and the mystery in the novel and the revelation near the end is the only saving grace in regards to that.

Colleen, unlike Ann, doesn’t feel real, her relationships with other characters, they don’t come off as real. Readers will read it and it will be frustrating because it reads as two-dimensional, and that’s disappointing with such an interesting story and interludes. Once again, the only saving graces in the novel because everything else feels forced. ★★★☆☆ (C+)

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