Reviewed by Kim
Being a Danvers resident and a Katherine Howe fan, I’ve been excited about this book coming out for months. My interest was further piqued by the fact that this book was based on similar circumstances which happened in a different town’s school a year or two ago. I have to say I was a little disappointed. It’s 2012 and the Senior girls at St. Joan’s Academy in Danvers MA are naturally stressed with completing mountains of assignments, and desperately trying to get into the colleges of their choice. Suddenly a mysterious illness begins afflicting some of the girls ranging from hair falling out, to paralysis, to vocal and physical tics. The media immediately jumps on this and soon the afflicted girls are on local and national tv. Theories abound: First it’s side effects from a vaccine, then it’s environmental pollution, and finally it’s concluded it’s Conversion Disorder which can supposedly effect teenage girls who are under tremendous amounts of stress. Interspersed with the events happening in 2012, the book flashes back to 1712, also in Danvers although it was then called Salem Village. Ann Putnam is confessing her part in the Salem Witch Hysteria which resulted in 19 deaths, to the Reverend to whom she is indentured to. Although she’s an adult, Ann hasn’t changed much. As her confession progresses, the more the Reverend becomes enthralled and the more Ann soaks up his attention. The book actually includes Ann’s real confession made in front of the Salem Village congregation. While admitting she and the other girls lied, she ends by blaming Satan. The present day happenings are related by Danvers resident and St. Joan’s Academy Senior Colleen Rowley. Colleen is definitely more likeable than Ann. She is genuinely confused and frightened about what is happening. She is a rational girl who with the encouragement of a teacher reads Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and slowly comes to the conclusion that the girls are faking their symptoms, even though one of them is her closest friend. Unfortunately right near the end, she too succumbs to the disorder. And this is where everything became very confusing to me. Colleen suddenly becomes convinced that the girls are not faking their symptoms but instead are being supernaturally attacked by another one of her friends who doesn’t realize what she’s doing. The ending of the book leaves it completely open ended. Because of this I am left being unsure of what Ms Howe’s intention was. Even reading her afterward did not really clear things up for me. Still, Conversion is a quickly paced book and I think YAs and even some of their parents and teachers will enjoy it.