Posted by: Lizzie Ross | May 20, 2010

Puritan zeal

Witch Child, Celia Rees (2000), Candlewick Press, 261 pp.

Rees is new to me, but she has several YA books that cross genres: in this case, historical fiction combined with the supernatural. She must have had fun researching the historical background for this novel, for the scenes aboard the ship, and in Salem and Beulah (Puritan colonies in 1659), reveal a strong sense of the times and cultures in early North American history.

Mary, the heroine of this novel, keeps a journal, of which the second line is her admission, “I am a witch.” It’s surprising that anyone would write something so dangerous in those days, but if you can get past that, you can enjoy this book. The details are terrific. Rees gets the sounds, smells, and colors just right–the stench of a hundred people spending months crammed into the hold of the ship, the sight of the New World forest spreading out below a mountain, the sound of footsteps overhead as a house is searched.

The heroine, of course, has to be headstrong, willing to disregard any danger she might put herself and her friends into whenever she strays from the confines of her life (walking in the woods, wearing boy’s clothing, talking with “savages”). She has to be curious and knowledgeable, clever and innocent, rebellious and in control. She has to make the right friends, but she needs enemies as well, ones with whom we could never sympathize.

How long can Mary continue testing the boundaries of her community before she’s caught and accused of witchcraft? And when the inevitable finally happens, how will Mary respond? Those questions, and Rees’ deft evocation of the world of the Puritans, kept me going to the end.

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