Conversion by Katherine Howe
Synopsis: 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—an exciting and suspenseful novel raises the chilling question: what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?
My thoughts: First off–the cover. Beautiful. Creepy. Totally inviting you to jump into to this twisted tale of witches and hysteria.
Maybe the cover was why I had such high expectations. Also, it’s a modern Salem Witch Trials thing, and I am utterly enchanted by anything that has to do with that history. So I guess it was the cover mixed with the premise that had me so excited.
It’s not that Conversion was bad, because it wasn’t. It was above average for sure. Entertaining, at least. But I felt the whole time I was holding my breath in excited anticipation for something stupendous that never came. There were still good things that came. I remember gasping and blabbing on to my sister when I figured (something spoilery). I loved how every chapter switched from Colleen’s story in the present Salem to Ann’s story in the past Salem, and even though I only remember some of the Crucible when I read it years ago, I thought the commentary and connections to Arthur Miller’s classic was super cool.
The suspense really was killer. The craziness at St. Joan’s–only heightened by Ann’s confessions every other chapter–kept building and building. Just when I thought the girls were frauds, something else would happen and I knew it was witchcraft. Or was it? Could they really all be faking it? Ah, it was so good! It blurred the line between reality and supernatural very well. Maybe that was why it didn’t live up to my hype, actually. It kept building and building, and while the end was creepy and cool, it was slightly anti-climatic. I thought for sure Ann’s story would intertwine more with Colleen’s at the end, especially after Colleen did that research about her. But at the end, Colleen–and the reader–are left to figure things out on their own, and Ann gets great last lines, but…there was no ‘ah ha!’ moment. Things were getting super good, confessions were coming out, and things were starting to make sense and I was freaking out and then…and then. The storylines almost came together, but just barely not quite, and that left a sense of dissatisfaction after the roller coaster of what if’s I’d just been on.
I liked the cast of characters. They were all different and the personalities held their own, which was good. I just didn’t find any of them overly likable. Colleen was bearable, but I think it’s because most of the time I felt bad for her trying to make it through such stressful competition at school. Other times, she was just annoying. I think it added to the idea of St. Joan’s though, because competition there is so high, and it brings out nastiness in even the best of them, so the annoyingness of the characters was still a good way to paint the picture of the setting. Oh, and Spencer? Where’d he come from? He was cute, and, sure, in an all-girls school it makes sense the author wanted to introduce a love interest. But he was hardly in it. I liked him when he was around, but it seemed so infrequent that I started to wonder why he was there at all.
That was the running theme of Conversion for me: so close to being something amazing, but settled for above average entertainment, which I support too. Definitely worth trying, just don’t expect it to knock your socks off.
Rated 3.5 for super intriguing idea, fascinating history, and good POV use. And the cover.