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