REVIEW: Conversion by Katherine Howe

Conversion
I received this book as an ARC (surprise, surprise) at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas. I’m so excited to write this review so it may be a long one (sorry, but I’m not actually sorry). Here’s the synopsis:
“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?”

1. The beginning pretty much lists a cast of characters.
Guys, I love plays. I have a Shakespeare tattoo on my arm. When plays and stories meet, that is just an explosion of awesome for me. The beginning of the book opens with Colleen introducing the main characters. It’s reminiscent of a play, but along with her introductions, she supplies little tidbits that she personally knows about everyone. Since St. Joan’s is a small private school, everyone pretty much knows everyone else. Honestly, the first “modern day” chapter hooked me because of its similarities to a play. This kind of seems like I’m nitpicking, but I’m not, I swear. It is awesome.

2. The way the chapters are set up is so cool. They flip flop from Ann’s confession in the 1700s to Danvers in 2012.
Your enjoyment of this book heavily depends on how you felt about The Crucible. This book is partly a re-telling and partly inspired by true events in our time (thank you, author’s note!). Ann’s chapters are titled as Interludes that usually coincide with whatever is going on in Colleen’s modern world. The way these chapters are set up make it easy to see the parallels between the characters and the story itself. Ann’s chapters are parts of The Crucible told through the eyes of one of the “afflicted” girls. This was so interesting to me, because as readers of the play know, we only get what the playwright tells us. Ann is working through her confession, years after the events of the play take place, in order to try and redeem herself to her village. After reading the author’s note, I saw that Howe pored over transcripts of what actually happened during the Salem Witch Trials and made Ann Putnam (jokingly called Ann Putnam Jr.) the centerpiece.

3. It is so refreshing to see a high school character so passionately concerned about her grades. She’s a private school student, but she isn’t stuck up or snotty, which makes for a likeable main character.
I will admit that Colleen might be a little TOO focused on her GPA, but as a future teacher, I love reading about teenagers who care. Colleen is applying to schools like Dartmouth and Harvard and she actually has a chance at getting in. It is so awesome. Usually, when I read books about characters who go to any kind of private school, they are stuck up and they are not easy to relate to. With Colleen, it’s refreshing to see that she doesn’t rest on the fact that she goes to a prestigious religious private school for her success. From what I know about her after reading, she is a kind and well rounded individual who falls victim to a little bit of stress.

4. There is no love triangle!
If you’ve read my other posts, you know how I feel about YA love triangles. If not, just know that I loathe them. Sometimes, I see their necessity, but other times they seem to be thrown in for extra drama – even if extra drama isn’t needed. In this book, there is a love interest, but Colleen doesn’t ogle over him every second of every day. In fact, she makes fun of her friends who incessantly text their boyfriends all day. This is so refreshing to see compared to other YA novels. The illness in the book is so serious, it was great NOT to see Colleen buy into the boy crazy-ness of her peers.

5. The illness that strikes the girls in this book is totally not what you think. I wasn’t even sure of what was happening until the very end.
The mystery goes from thinking it is hysteria like in The Crucible to environmental contamination to supernatural forces to…what it actually is. I’m not going to tell you because I want you to read the book and find out. When you find out what the illness is, it might seem a little anti-climactic. But it’s totally not! It’s a pretty staggering look at real life, especially when it comes to small schools like that. I feel like I’m saying too much, moving on!

6. A person’s need to be noticed, to be somebody is on the forefront.
We’ve all been there. We all know how it feels to be invisible, or to be seen as unimportant. The parallels between Ann Putnam and Colleen are many, but the biggest parallel is that they both want people to notice them; they both want to feel powerful and important. I have definitely been in that situation, as I’m sure many people have. It’s interesting to see what many people will do in order to receive the attention they want. I experience that in my own group of friends. Colleen isn’t exactly invisible, but she does tend to blend in. The need to stand out is paramount in high school, but also in the 1700s as we see in Ann’s narrative. You’re not alone! We all want to be noticed! (Maybe this is why I started blogging again?)

Overall: FIVE STARS!!I can go on and on and on about the awesome-ness of this book. But honestly, I’d rather you form your own opinions and read it yourself. Katherine Howe had me absolutely enthralled. I was never bored with this and it kept me guessing through the whole thing. Even at the end, you still question if the diagnosis is real. I love that there is no ambiguous ending because I feared that’s where it would end. There is a clear ending, but…is there? This book has been birthed to the world, so clicky clicky on the link below to buy this awesome book. You’ll thank me later.

http://www.amazon.com/Conversion-Katherine-Howe/dp/0399167773/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_har?ie=UTF8&qid=1404703585&sr=8-1&keywords=conversion

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