Monday, March 21, 2011

Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials by Stephanie Hemphill

Fiction; Grades 8-12; 408 p.
School Library Journal Best Books Of The Year 2010
Booklist Starred:
Hemphill follows her Printz Honor Book Your Own, Sylvia (2007) with another bold verse novel based on historical figures. Here, her voices belong to the “afflicted” girls of Salem, whose accusations of witchcraft led to the hangings of 19 townspeople in 1692. Once again, Hemphill’s raw, intimate poetry probes behind the abstract facts and creates characters that pulse with complex emotion. According to an appended author’s note, unresolved theories about the causes of the girls’ behavior range from bread-mold-induced hallucinations to bird flu. In Hemphill’s story, the girls fake their afflictions, and the book’s great strength lies in its masterful unveiling of the girls’ wholly believable motivations: romantic jealousy; boredom; a yearning for friendship, affection, and attention; and most of all, empowerment in a highly constricting and stratified society that left few opportunities for women. Layering the girls’ voices in interspersed, lyrical poems that slowly build the psychological drama, Hemphill requires patience from her readers. What emerge are richly developed portraits of Puritanical mean girls, and teens will easily recognize the contemporary parallels in the authentic clique dynamics. An excellent supplementary choice for curricular studies of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, this will also find readers outside the classroom, who will savor the accessible, unsettling, piercing lines that connect past and present with timeless conflicts and truths.

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