I received this book for free from Penguin Canada in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Conversion by Katherine Howe
Published by Putnam Juvenile on July 1st 2014
Genres: Historical, Mystery, YA
Source: Penguin Canada
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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?
This is the second time I have been let down by a book with nearly the same premise. Sure Megan Abbott’s, The Fever, goes in a different direction and has it’s own unique spin on a mystery illness taking over a school as it begins to afflict girls rapidly, but it’s easy to determine that the idea behind Abbott’s latest work and Conversion come from the same news story.
The main difference that I came away with from the two books was that while The Fever managed to have a dark tone and keep me interested in what the outcome would be, Conversion failed to do that and instead bored me for most of it. From the title and blurb it’s quite apparent that what the afflicted girls are dealing with is Conversion Disorder and a quick google search as to what exactly that is puts pretty much any mystery the novel had going for it to rest. The whole novel also parallels to flashbacks that take place in Salem during the witch trials in which a group of girls fake their ailments and accuses a group of ladies of witchcraft getting them put to death (think The Crucible, of course.) I’m not sure if I was supposed to buy into any sort of mystery with this book, I can’t see that being the goal after they decided to name it Conversion, so I did try to find enjoyment in other aspects of the novel but unfortunately looking elsewhere proved to be frustrating.
What sticks out to me as the most frustrating about Katherine Howe’s latest work is the characterization, or lake there of, for the main group of girls that we meet. Colleen (our MC) and her core group of friends, and even the popular clique if I’m being honest, all felt like the same person. I really couldn’t tell you the difference between these girls other than skin tone and the fact that one of them has a boyfriend that she is madly in love with. Other than that there were no facets of their personality that made them stand out from one another. At one point in the novel I started to think that Howe felt the same way when she gives us a three-way call between Colleen and two friends and doesn’t even bother to define who says what for part of it.
“Do you think it’s contagious?” One of us said in a small voice.
“Nah. They’d have said something,” another of us insisted. “They’d close the school. Bring in the CDC or whatever.” (quoted from an uncorrected ARC copy of the novel)
Really? it wasn’t important to show us who said what in this exchange? I mean, I get that all three of them are essentially worried about the same thing but this stuck out to me like a sore thumb when it came to lack of characterization in the novel. Which one of these girls is so afraid that she doesn’t even want to talk about it out loud, which is calm & in control and thinking logically about everything, those things say a lot about a person!
There isn’t much to be had in the way of romance. Colleen does strike up a relationship with a boy that she meets but it’s really left on the back burner for much of the novel. So much so that when they do finally kiss it felt really random and out of place because the build up just wasn’t there. The flashbacks are treated pretty well but I have to admit that I simply had very little interest in them at all. Having never actually read The Crucible I was left rather bored and even a little confused by the terminology (I was wondering why EVERY woman was named Goody, what the heck?) All in all this didn’t work for me on so many levels and it really is a wonder that I powered through and made it to the end. I think I need to walk away from this premise and accept that it just isn’t ever going to work for me.
1 Cold Espresso
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