This is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. I’m not a huge fan of scary stories, so I was slightly taken by surprise by how dark and menacing this book is. It’s about the witch trials of Salem, so I suppose I should have known better, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so frightening.
Although the realities of the time were certainly scary, author Kathleen Kent grabs you and doesn’t let go. From the very first page, the prose is dripping with foreshadowing, so that before long, you’re expecting disaster in every paragraph. This comes across as a little heavy handed at times, but it certainly kept me from putting the book down!
Sarah Carrier narrates the tale as a young girl growing up in Andover, Massachusetts. Her parents don’t quite fit in with society, so when the witch hysteria in neighbouring Salem takes hold, her mother is labeled as a witch and arrested. Mom, however, is one of those “truth at all costs” kinds of people, and refuses to plead guilty. She maintains her innocence, and ultimately hangs for it.
That’s probably one of the strangest things about the Salem witch trials. If you were accused of being a witch, and you claimed you were innocent, they found you guilty and you were hanged. But if you admitted your guilt and said you danced with the devil (and were willing to name other witches), they would let you live. If confronted with that kind of choice—be honest and die, or lie and live—I have to say that I’m not sure I would have the moral strength to stand by my convictions.
The twist in the story is about Sarah’s father. Supposedly he was a soldier in Cromwell’s army in England, and was the executioner of King George. The other colonists in Andover know this about him, but his past is kept secret from his children. Sarah knows there is a mystery about him, but doesn’t learn the details until she is grown up. This provides additional mystery (and lots of opportunity for foreshadowing!) for the plot, but I’m not sure what it adds to the historical accuracy. I have been able to find zero evidence that Sarah Carrier’s father (in real life) was a soldier at all, let alone a royal axeman.
That brings me to some other problems with the story. The author claims to be a direct descendent of Sarah Carrier, and that the family has passed down by word of mouth these tales. I’m sure that’s true, but when certain facts contradict established history, I begin to have doubts. In the book, Sarah claims to be 11 years old. But in reality, at the trail, she is described as being 6. Five years is a big difference to a child! Literary license aside, since this book is being narrated as the remembrances of Sarah as an adult, I find it hard to believe that she was as aware as the author makes her out to be.
Overall I would highly recommend this book, but not to hysterical teenage girls. They caused enough problems. Nor would I recommend this for a vacation book, especially not if you’re going to a cabin in the middle of the woods. I would read this book again, but only at noon in the middle of Times Square during the Christmas holidays, probably while clutching my teddy bear.