Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Review: Conversion by Katherine Howe

Posted by

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.

Review: Conversion by Katherine HoweConversion by Katherine Howe
Published by Putnam Juvenile on July 1st 2014
Genres: Historical, Mystery, YA
Source: Penguin Canada
Buy on Amazon

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

20 Responses to “Review: Conversion by Katherine Howe”

  1. jazmen

    Only one star. Yikes. That’s pretty bad. I’m sorry this one was such a let down, and to think I just added this to my Goodreads shelf this morning…

  2. Nick @ Nick's Book Blog

    I’m sorry this was such a disappointment to you, Jenni. I was looking forward to it, but I don’t think this is something I’m going to remotely enjoy. The lack of characterizations would drive me insane. Also, yeah, if you haven’t read The Crucible, I understand why you didn’t get the Goody reference. I would have thought the author would have mentioned it at least. Anyways, I’m sorry this was a bore for you, Jenni.
    I’ll be skipping this one for sure!

  3. Bonnie

    YIKES. I have another one of this authors books that I’ve heard good things about but it sounds to me like her treading into YA territory didn’t go so well. Will definitely be skipping this one. Sorry it didn’t work out for you, Jenni!

  4. Steph

    Wow! I guess after reading the Fever you were already let down by a book like this so it is understandable that this one wasn’t that great either. Sorry if fell flat…

  5. Wendy Darling

    Aw man, I just picked this up at ALA! It’s sad to see that lonely cup of coffee all by itself. I peeked at a couple lines of your review, but am resisting the urge to read the rest until I’ve read it myself. It’s good to be forewarned, though.

  6. Alexa

    Aw I just picked this up at ALA hoping it would be a great read. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it.
    Thanks for the great review though!

  7. Tina

    The minute I read “queen bee” I skipped down to see how many “espressos” you gave it and saw 1. I’m certain it was deserved.

  8. Pili

    Hmmm, just one espresso?? Damn, that’s bad! I wasn’t particularly drawn to this book but after reading your review, I’m gonna steer clear of it! The whole three-way call without identifying who says what speaks badly of the narrative for sure!
    Thanks for the very honest review, Jenni!

  9. Maddy @Symphony of Words

    Wow, you REALLY didn’t enjoys this one. I’m so sorry and kind of disappointed as well, because the premise sounded SO EXCITING! Salem witch trials and diseases and whatnot? My god, I was so pent up about the release of this book! But reading your review now, I really don’t think I’ll be picking this up mainly due to lack of characterisation and next to no hot romance. Thanks for the heads up, Jenni!

  10. Cait @ Notebook Sisters

    Ugh, this doesn’t not make me very interested…mostly the lack of characterisation, really! Is it paranormal? I wasn’t sure…because I had no idea it had undertones with the Salem Witch Trials! (Har, I don’t really read blurbs very closely do I?? XD) I’m kind of glad I didn’t request this on off NetGalley. I think I’d rather risk it at a library first.

  11. Michelle

    🙁 I’m sorry that you didn’t like this book, Jenni! It kinda sounds like my type of book but adding all of the flaws into it just gears me away from it. Great review!

  12. Alex from Electrifying Reviews

    Bummer that you didn’t enjoy this one. I am really interested in the Salem Witch Trials, and would love to find a book that relates to them yet is actually good. Ah well, I guess I’ll have to keep looking. Thanks for the review!

  13. Leanna

    Oh, no way! One lonely, cold espresso. What a disappointment – especially since the premise of this one sounds SO cool! I will probably still check it out, but this is the first review I’ve read for this book and, well, it hasn’t filled me with hope. 🙁

  14. Lyn Kaye

    I really do not want to muddle through another boring book. I was really ramped up for this book, but now it is going to go to the wayside. Meh.

  15. Meredith

    I believe that Goody means Mrs. Or a married woman. I think. I’m not 100% sure. I’m sorry this novel was such a let down for you.

  16. Aly @ My Heart Hearts Books

    Gah. I definitely think that the concept is cool, but I hate it when author come up with a cool premise but their writing doesn’t follow through. I was debating whether or not to pick up Conversion and I’ll think I’ll pass. Great review though.