Monday, March 14, 2011

Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill

What started out as girls' games became a witch hunt. Wicked Girls is a fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials told from the perspectives of three of the real young women living in Salem in 1692.
Ann Putnam Jr. plays the queen bee. When her father suggests that a spate of illnesses within the village is the result of witchcraft, Ann grasps her opportunity. She puts in motion a chain of events that will change the lives of the people around her forever.
Mercy Lewis, the beautiful servant in Ann's house, inspires adulation in some and envy in others. With a troubled past, she seizes her only chance at safety.
Margaret Walcott, Ann's cousin, is desperately in love and consumed with fiery jealousy. She is torn between staying loyal to her friends and pursuing the life she dreams of with her betrothed.
With new accusations mounting daily against the men and women of the community, the girls will have to decide: Is it too late to tell the truth?

When I first picked up this book and found it was in verse, I thought, Nah, no way I'll like this book. But it sat there, taunting me, until I finally sighed and grabbed it, planning to glance at it on my way to school. And, much to my surprise, it was good: the verse aspect gave an even more riveting and fresh view on The Salem Witch Trials. The author does an amazing job of weaving the story through with historical elements, which I love. I have trouble with history sometimes-- well, all the time, really-- because it's just not that interesting. And I often have the distorted illusion that people back then were totally different from us, just a face in a textbook, and I'll never be able to relate to them. But Stephanie Hemphill cleverly injects the plot line with honest-to-goodness intriguing facts, and you soak it up without even meaning to. Her characters are completely relateable. And the Salem Witch Trials are something to learn about, let me just say. Who knew it was a couple of girls who wanted attention and power that started it all? It really goes to show you what a tangled web humans can weave before they're caught in it.  

In Wicked Girls, the character's voices are all very real and very believable. In those days, girls were pretty much powerless and swept aside unless they did something that merited attention. It was easy to understand the girl's motives for their appalling actions. Ann Putman, the youngest of the girls, is startlingly powerful and convincing despite her youth, spurned on by her desperate need for love from her indifferent parents. It's actually a little frightening to realize what this seemingly- innocent child was capable of. Her passion is only matched by her cousin Margaret's violent envy of any girl her unfaithful betrothed, Isaac, glanced twice at. You can actually see the mind- numbing jealously working it's way through her, clouding her vision and eating away at her common sense. So infuriated was she that she joined her cousin in the false accusations, battling for the attention of Isaac against the dazzling servant girl Mercy. Of all the girls, Mercy is the one I emphasize most with. An orphan, she spends most of her time fending off the advances of leery men and keeping out of the way of women who feel threatened by her looks. In the beginning, she only joins the two cousins to protect herself against unwanted attention by making people believe she is possessed, and therefore untouchable. But she, too, is infected by the promise of power, pointing fingers at those who'd done her wrong in the past, claiming them to practice the black arts. It's hard to imagine people could do such a thing, and that other people would believe it, and enjoy it even, but these girls-- who were nonfictional characters, by the way-- prove it. Stephanie Hemphill only guessed at their true thoughts and feelings, but in my honest opinion, she came pretty spot-on.

About the Author: Stephanie Hemphill's first novel in poems, Things Left Unsaid, was published by Hyperion and was awarded the 2006 Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Excellence in Poetry by the Children's Literature Council of Southern California. Her second novel, a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath, Your Own, Sylvia, was published by Knopf in 2007 and received a 2008 Printz Honor and the 2008 Myra Cohn Livingston Award. Stephanie's latest book, Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials, was published by HarperCollins and has received 5 starred reviews. And two verse novels, an Austenesque tale of romance in Renaissance Venice called Sisters of Glass and Hideous Love: The Lost Poems of Mary Shelley are forthcoming in the next couple of years. Stephanie Hemphill chaired the 2005 PEN Award's Children's Literature Committee. She has been writing, studying and presenting poetry for adults and children at UCLA, the University of Illinois (where she received an award from The Academy of American Poets), with Writer's at Work, in classrooms, and at conferences across the country. Stephanie presently lives in both Chicago and Los Angeles. She is a poor-man's Martha Stewart in that she enjoys baking and crafts, but admits she truly excels at neither one. She's also an avid sports fan and very excited that right now she can enjoy football, baseball, hockey, golf, and basketball, not to mention the lesser sports. Autumn, she firmly believes, is a very exciting season. 

Other Books You May Enjoy: Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill, A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

1 comment:

  1. Hi Book Girl. I enjoyed reading your review of Wicked Girls because I've been reading it at the CNIB recording studio recently. It's been fun using my voice to match the different personalities of the girls in the story. I happen also to be a writer of ya, so I'm hoping you'll check out some of my books at
    Another book girl,