Crossover and Bridge: Conversion

I picked up Katherine Howe’s novel Conversion on something of a whim, mostly because whatever I had read about described its link to the Salem Witch Trials and Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. Both are topics/texts that are frequently studied in high schools, so I figured this book might provide some nice connections in the context of young adult readers. I was surprised at how engaged I became in the story and the characters.
Conversion is really two stories in one: The main story is told through Colleen Rowley’s eyes while a secondary story reveals the truth behind the witch scare in Salem, Massachusetts in in 1600’s. Colleen lives in Danvers, MA (the town formerly known as Salem Village–renamed for obvious reasons, I guess) where she attends an elite private all-girls school; the focus of the story is on an unidentified “illness” that strikes the school, beginning with a few girls and slowly infecting more and more of the school’s population. Interspersed with chapters about the mysterious illness are chapters that take place in Salem Village, told from the perspective of Ann Putnam, where she confesses the true events and motives at work in the girls who were the center of the original Salem witch scare.

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Literature on Totalitarian Regimes

This summer I’ve read two books about totalitarian regimes: Sekret by Lindsey Smith and Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. Although not pure historical fiction, Sekret is set in Soviet Russia during the moon race; its deviation from the historical record comes from the story’s focus on a fictional group of psychic children that the KGB uses in espionage activities against the Americans. Maggot Moon also focuses on the race to the moon, although it’s setting is more vague; while the book clearly evokes the USSR, we know-nothing explicit about the setting except that the characters live in “the Motherland.”

The two protagonists, Standish Treadwell (Maggot Moon) and Yulia Andreevna Chernina (Sekret), are drawn in stark contrasts: Yulia has a powerful psychic mind and Standish can’t even read and write. But both face the deadly trials of living in a totalitarian society with impressive courage, and the descriptions of the oppressive society in which they live and its puppet masters in both books is frighteningly compelling. I found booth book to be page-turners and highly recommend them. While Maggot Moon might seem to be for middle readers (its shorter and its protagonist is younger), its darker content is more suited for older readers; once you’ve read the ending (which I found more satisfying than that of Sekret), you’ll see what I mean.

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