Book Review: Conversion

Synopsis according to Goodreads:
"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?"



Conversion renewed my faith in Katherine Howe (I loved The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, but not so much love for The House of Velvet and Glass). It's a compelling mystery with a realistic teen narrator.


I loved that Colleen, the protagonist, is utterly believable. She's competitive and focused on college applications, understanding if unsympathetic of her gamut of friends, loving but rebellious toward her family, etc.
In short, she's a regular gal, who isn't 100% focused on a crush (which seems to be a lot of teen girl portrayal on contemporary YA these days).


The story flashes between contemporary and 17th century Salem Village, drawing historical accounts into a modern narrative. I love that Howe brings those characters to life, in ways that brought to light some of the driving influence behind the Salem Panic. I don't recall, in high school, ever learning about the political grasping behind each accusation (and we did read The Crucible, and I acted a scene from it).


The mystery definitely involves magical realism, and it keeps you guessing until the very end. I recommend this one for fans of witchcraft (in the historical sense as well as the fantastical one), contemporary mystery and YA genres, female-heavy ensemble casts that don't revolve around romance, magical realism (I think fans of Jennifer McMahon would enjoy this), and creepy things.


It also bears mentioning that I listened to this as an audiobook. At first, the narrator's pinched, nasally voice for Colleen bothered me. But after a while, it ceased being an issue- she did such a good job differentiating voices, and nailing the accents in the historical passages.

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