Author: Katherine Howe
When girls at an elite Boston-area private school start falling victim to a wide range of physical and mental ailments, senior Colleen Rowley doesn’t pay much attention at first. It quickly becomes apparent that school administrators and local health officials are at a loss for what is causing the crisis, and when the media catches wind of the situation, chaos descends on the suburban town of Danvers, Massachusetts. Colleen and her friends are busy obsessing over college admissions, last-minute interviews, and so on, but when she gets anonymous texts urging her to look closer, she does.
Conversion was published a couple of years ago. I had heard lots of buzz at the time, but didn’t get around to reading it until now, and I’m glad I finally did. It’s smart and sophisticated. Howe tells two stories simultaneously. The main story is told from Colleen’s point of view, which lends itself to a certain sense of claustrophobia and confusion. After all, as a teen she’s not privvy to official meetings, reports, etc. Interspersed throughout the book are sections of a story narrated by Ann Putnam in 1706, recounting her role in the events that led to the Salem Witch Trials years earlier.
As people speculate about the mystery disease – environmental? reaction to a vaccine? academics-induced hysteria? – Colleen begins to notice parallels between the present and the events of 300 years earlier. After all, Danvers used to be called Salem Village. About halfway through, I wasn’t sure if I was reading a horror novel, a medical mystery, or an indictment of the contemporary college arms-race. It’s all of the above and more, deliciously creepy and compulsive reading at its best.
–Lisa, Teen Librarian
Title: Once Was a Time
Author: Leila Sales
It’s 1940 in Britain, and ten-year-old Kitty and Lottie are best friends. Kitty is somewhat smothered by her protective parents, and Lottie is left to her own devices after her mother leaves. Her scientist father is consumed by his work for the government, and he pays no attention to his children at home – not that he’s ever home in the first place. So the girls have each other, and as far as they’re concerned, that’s perfect. But the Germans are after Lottie’s father’s project, which has to do with time travel, and through a terrible twist of fate Lottie winds up in Wisconsin in 2013 – leaving Kitty behind.
Lottie is stranded and alone, and over the next several years she manages to make a new life with her foster family in small-town America, but her one goal in life is to return to Kitty.
The book is roughly divided into three sections: Before, in 1940s England, where the stage is set. Then there’s Lottie’s immediate arrival in Wisconsin and getting her settled. And finally, the story picks up again as she is finishing up high school.
I was a little confused when I started reading and the girls were ten because I know (and love) Leila Sales as a YA author. I suppose this is technically a middle grade novel; however, there’s nothing to say older kids wouldn’t enjoy the story, particularly since Lottie grows up over the course of the book.
There’s an old-fashioned feel to the story – time travel! orphans having adventures! – but there are contemporary issues too, most notably Lottie’s detour into Mean Girl land and a potential romance. The main theme, though, is love and the power of friendship. Lottie never stops looking for a way back to her best friend, and if someone was crying by the end of the book, well, I guess my allergies were just terrible that day…..
–Lisa, Teen Librarian