Author: Katherine Howe (@katherinebhowe)
Published: July 1st 2014
Genre: YA thriller, mystery, historical
POV: 1st person
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Format: Print ARC
Source: Vine Program
Rating: The Royal Library, Middle Shelf
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?
Switching between Colleen Rowley's narration in 2012 Danvers, MA and Ann Putnam's recounting of her past experiences in Salem, Conversion is strange and spellbinding. In Colleen's chapters, her world quickly turns to chaots when the most popular senior girl in her class comes down with a mystery illness that soon spreads from girl to girl with varying symptoms. Colleen tries to deal the fiasco as best as she can, focusing on her goal of becoming valedictorian, attempting to gain admission to Harvard, and ignoring the strange text messages that urge her to read The Crucible. Ann, meanwhile, lives in 1706 and is confessing her past sins, portraying an incredibly familiar story in a slightly different light.
Howe skillfully builds the tension and mystery of Conversion. With each new girl who falls ill in Colleen's story and each new revelation Ann provides in her own tale, the the novel as a whole only continues to grow more intriguing and captivating. The parallels between both stories are fascinating, and Colleen's tale forced me to think differently about the Salem witch trials. I'm going to keep quiet on plot details and leave it at this – Conversion is a story of friendship, family, secrets, and the lengths people are willing to go to in order to be seen. It's a fascinating story to watch unfold, and one that shouldn't be missed.
Highlights: Neither narrator is overwhelmingly likable, and I enjoyed that realism. Colleen is very focused on herself and her future, while Ann made incredibly foolish and deadly mistakes for selfish reasons. Howe builds each girl with flaws and attributes that make them seem even more realistic. Family is present, and Colleen's parents were extremely realistic and caring (which is surprisingly rare in YA novels). I especially loved the ending, and how it seems both final yet ambiguous. It's up to the reader, as to what really happened, and who to believe.
Lowlights: The beginning seemed a bit slow. It took a bit of time to get used to the switching between narrators, but soon enough, Conversion became a difficult book to set aside.
Rating: The Royal Library, Middle Shelf (4 out of 5). Conversion is fantastic, and has earned a spot in the royal library. I enjoyed this story very much, despite a few small issues, and would recommend this book to other readers.