Stephanie Hemphill uses free verse and three different character perspectives to tell a fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials in Wicked Girls. It is a fascinating take on a piece of American history about which we know many facts but not the full story. The novel opens with Mercy Lewis, a 17-year-old servant in the Putnam’s house, as she gives the reader an idea of what life in Salem Village is like: cold, little to eat, lots of distrust of others. The reader soon meets the other main characters: Ann Putnam Jr., the 12-year-old who yearns for attention, namely from her mother and Mercy, and Margaret Walcott, a 17-year-old cousin of Ann’s, with a fierce streak of jealousy.
Two local girls, Betty and Abigail, are the first to be afflicted, and Ann quickly joins in. Margaret and Mercy are drawn in, as are several other girls. Ann often leads the group as they name the “witches” who “torment” them, but the power in the group is fluid and loyalties change. Each girl has her own motivation, and the way they use the power they hold is frightening. The book spans a year as many innocent people are arrested and put to death.
I saw this book on display at ALA and the cover made me yearn to read it. I was so happy when a copy soon came in the mail for me. I could not put this book down! Hemphill’s portrayal is very believable. Teens will relate to the bullying, group think, and peer pressure that drives the characters. I can see this book being used in so many ways, not just to bring attention to a piece of history, but to also talk about mean girls, and to study character voice. Each girl has a unique voice so the perspective changes are not hard to follow.
Hemphill’s author notes in the back are thorough. She goes in to detail about the real people and what happened to them, as far as we know. Further resources are listed should the reader wish to learn more, and she writes about her motivation for writing the story. I love that she included this glimpse into her brain.
Wicked Girls is an engaging read that I will definitely put in my high school library.
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