Review - Conversion by Katherine Howe

by Katherine Howe

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane comes a chilling mystery—Prep meets The Crucible.

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?

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Conversion was the story about a boarding school where girls suddenly developed strange symptoms and no one knew what was causing it. There were parallels to the events in Salem Village in 1706, so parts of the novel went back to that time period. In the present, hysteria and panic were taking over the town, but the students still had tests to take and colleges to interview with. Colleen's history substitute gave her some extra credit to bring up her grade and suggested that she compare history to The Crucible to determine what was fiction and what was fact. The teacher was bothered by the fact that the regular teacher was using a fictional play to teach historical fact. The author of the play was making parallels to 1950s hysteria and communism and using the events in Salem as a backdrop to make those parallels. Not only did the extra credit have connections with the 50s, it definitely resembled the hysteria and panic taking over the town, so it was a good project for Colleen to be working on while craziness enveloped her town. Conversion definitely had a lot going on and tons of interesting threads.

I enjoyed the novel, but I found that there was a ton of build up to some fantastic ending that would connect all of the dots and that never really happened. I wasn't necessarily looking for something to have caused the symptoms, but I was looking for some better execution of the similar threads of the story. The pieces were all there, but it all just kind of fell flat for me. I liked the way it ended and what the author explained in her Author's Note at the end about the events that inspired her to write the book. However, I feel like she took conversion, The Crucible, hysteria, and Salem and didn't connect them all as seamlessly and draw parallels from them with Colleen as the oblivious main character. I would have liked to have gotten the teacher's POV or perhaps 3rd person POV and probably would have enjoyed the conclusion. I'm possibly being unfair because this book kind of reminded me of The Fever by Megan Abbott, which was brilliant and took on the way that hysteria and panic affects people and wasn't trying to connect with past events in order to do so.

I would recommend Conversion because it did have some interesting connections and points to make about the stresses placed on teens and girls in general. It was the kind of story that had me flying through the pages. I think some of the effect was lost on me because I was expecting one of two things and the story didn't take either path. Still, I enjoy the author's style of writing and I love that all of her books so far have connected to Salem, as the witch trials are of huge interest to me and always have been. Conversion has been on my radar for a very long time and I snatched it up as soon as it was in paperback, so a lot of my disappointment is probably from my own personal hype. I couldn't wait to read this book and I should have not expected it to shatter my reality or anything crazy like that. it was really good and it made some awesome points about people, stress, hysteria, and history.

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