By Katherine Howe
My Rating: 4 Stars
This book was given to me as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Colleen Rowley is a senior at St. Joan’s Academy in Danvers, Massachusetts. The academic life at St. Joan’s is stressful and highly competitive. Senior year is the worst as the girls stress over getting into the right colleges and compete for top honors within their class. As the girls struggle to keep up, something terrifying starts to happen. A number of girls become inflicted with a mysterious illness. One where the symptoms seem to change with each girl. As the town of Danvers and St. Joan’s tries to flesh out what the cause of this illness is, Colleen makes some unexpected discoveries and conclusions. While reading The Crucible for extra credit she discovers this isn’t the first time this has happened in her town. In fact, 200 years before, her town wasn’t called Danvers, it was Salem, and during the 17th century, there was another group of girls who came down with a similar mysterious illness. And everyone knows what happened then and what they were accused of by their town. Is that what is happening in Danvers? Are witches real? Are the girls faking? Or is it something else entirely?
Conversion completely delivered! Even at the end, the reader is left wondering what really happened. And we don’t really know for certain. It’s a great way to end a book. While I’ve seen this book being compared to The Fever by Megan Abbott, I believe it’s a far different book and should be judged without considering Abbott’s work. While the basic plots are similar, Conversion has a backstory that is fascinating to read. And the present day plot, is thick with mystery and suspense. It will keep you wondering what is really happening until the last page. And when you get to the final page you still may not accept what the town of Danvers accepts. Colleen sure isn’t convinced.
In addition to loving the backstory and how it’s connected with the present day story, I also liked that Conversion is entirely from the perspective of Colleen who is intimately involved in the events and becomes a very active participant. Through Colleen’s character, Howe allows the reader to experience the madness first hand. And because everything is from Colleen’s perspective, the reader falls with Colleen, allowing the reader to second guess conclusions they have made while reading. It’s a clever plot mechanism to make the reader distrust what they have read and interpreted. It adds so much to the experience of the book itself and ultimately adds to the overall feeling of madness within the book.
Ultimately, I loved this book and consider it a must read for the year. I’ve already recommended it to library customers. Be sure to check this one out. You’ll be glad you did.