Imagine being a teenager born into a life of privilege in the tropical paradise of Barbados. But that life has been taken away by the death of your grandfather who adored you and provided for you after the deaths of your parents. Now, armed with your assumed assurance that your mother’s sister, your Aunt Rachel, will welcome you with open arms, you instead arrive in the austere environment of Puritan era Connecticut. The shock of your aunt’s family’s reaction to your arrival is equaled by your culture shock at this harsh and dour environment.
Our main character Katherine Tyler, Kit, is an educated young lady of privilege, used to slaves to do her bidding, fine dresses from which to chose daily, an adoring and doting grandfather, the ability to read fine poetry and plays and decide on her own activities of leisure. Now she is standing at the doorstep of her aunt’s home being stared at judgmentally by her Uncle Matthew.
Kit’s difference in upbringing and sense of privilege cause problems with the regimented and religiously strict lives of the Puritan settlers. She speaks out too quickly and too often. She acts on impulse. She is headstrong and defiant. Her first encounter with a Puritan family on the journey aboard the Dolphin is unsettling as she demonstrates her ability to swim, to stay afloat, a sure sign of guilt as a witch, not the innocent skill of someone born and raised on a tropical island. Her differences from everyone else and friendship with suspected witch Hannah Tupper lead to her being accused of witchcraft. Even her teaching a neglected child to write her own name is seen as evidence of witchcraft.
I enjoyed this book because I don’t enjoy reading history textbooks! What I mean is that when a good story is told and set into an historical era, it is that much more interesting to read, and I do get a history lesson from that time and place. It is true that the story is fiction; however, the good historical fiction writer does so much research to maintain accuracy to the time and place, even including authentic sites, events, and people, that the story still enlightens even as it entertains and challenges the reader.
As a related read find Rosalyn Schanzer’s Witches! : The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem for an award winning nonfiction account of what happened to innocent women and girls when witchcraft hysteria grabs hold of a community.
Keywords: Historical fiction, witchcraft, Puritans, Connecticut, Newbery, fiction
Companion book: Witches! : The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer.
Recommended by: Kate Stehman, Librarian, Pennsylvania USA
978-0395071144 Ages 10-13 256 pages