Conversion by Katherine Howe

conversion1Novel: Conversion by Katherine Howe | Goodreads
Release Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Penguin
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane comes a chilling mystery—Prep meets The Crucible
It’s senior year at St. Joan’s Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian, deciphering boys’ texts: Through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can’t.
First it’s the school’s queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan’s buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.
Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen—who’s been reading The Crucible for extra credit—comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago . . .
Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school—Conversion casts a spell. With her signature wit and passion, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe delivers an exciting and suspenseful novel, a chilling mystery that raises the question, what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?

I’ll definitely be rereading this one for Halloween. This evocative novel drenched in mystery is compelling to say the least, with the lingering suspense that creates a dark mood beyond its pages.

The historical story in this one actually really made me want to read The Crucible. The way the girls fed off of the panic and clamor was both horrifying and exhilarating. Questions of why were interspersed with the thrill of lying, of creating something bigger than themselves. The characterization was sharp, in perfect sync with mannerisms and the slick history portrayed. The historical parts were chilling in that sense, filled with an unbridled hysteria and fear from the witches. The mood-building was epic.

The accuracy of the research and the intelligent nature only served to heighten the intensity. I loved learning more about it. From the clarity of narrators’ voices to the stunning intricacy of historical detail, the Salem witches’ trial coverage was equally shocking and engaging. Once I got into the story, it didn’t let go.

The contemporary scenes weren’t as outwardly paranormal as I was expecting but instead hedged into magical realism territory. Instead of suspecting any sort of magical goings-on or phenomena, scientists and the school community sought far-fetched diagnoses ranging from radiation to forms of mental disease. While I wish some of the tension had been extended from the ending to earlier in the book, I appreciated the lengths Howe went to keep it more realistic.

We knew what was going on from the historical perspective but had virtually no idea what happened from the contemporary side. What was going on at St. Joan’s? The intrigue kept me hooked, picking up the book at breakfast and any free time I could use to escape into it.

One detail that I appreciated was the depth of the academic obsession on the side of the St. Joan’s girls. The hunger for AP classes, extracurriculars, extra credit, colleges, and all, is one of the most frenzied depictions as show in YA. It’s pretty realistic for those of us who are ambitious enough to fall into the insanity of academic success. I loved it. I loved the character- while Colleen wasn’t as immediately warm per se as Harper from Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins (another college fiend), she was still relatable and motivated. I seriously adore driven characters, particularly fed from the same intensity that Colleen was.

Another interesting detail was how the pure act of being ill led to whispers and privilege, a presence that gave the afflicted girls a kind of power. If there’s anything from The Crucible that Howe really retained, it was the shock and awe trailing each girl. It was a presence felt in both Danvers (the contemporary setting) and the lore of Salem.

Supporting characters were strong and vibrant. Colleen was engrossed in the fight for valedictorian which led her to become a little self-absorbed in parts of the novel, but she began to realize that her friends were going through things she didn’t even know about as the disease took its toll. From a student-teacher relationship to a disorder to love affairs, she was aware of several things and blissfully ignorant of others. Emma – one of her friends dealing with a particularly fascinating conflict throughout – was alarming in the sense that we weren’t sure whether or not we could trust her. It was interesting to see how she interacted with all of them throughout, and how her focus only sharpened as she learned more. The more I read about each of the characters, the more that I enjoyed them.

There was a romance, but it wasn’t a main facet of the book. Colleen was too focused on her own ambitions and the dark goings-on at her school to be drawn head-first into a romance. It was refreshing to see a character whose life wasn’t entirely changed when she met a boy, but it continued on as a pleasing sub-plot, with all the anxiety and sweetness of any budding relationship.

Her family was an additional plus. They perfectly complemented the tone of the novel, concerned about the outbreak and encouraging her college aspirations but still fading into the background enough for them to not overshadow important points. Colleen relied a lot on her parents’ presence and they were a relevant part of her life. Little scenes like watching the news together before breakfast contributed a comforting tone to an otherwise chilling continuity in the plot. It wasn’t yet another absentee-parents trope come to life.

The pacing was rather phenomenal. When I got about four hundred pages in, I was still shocked that I had gotten in so deeply. But pacing-wise, I would have liked some of the tension present at the end to have been introduced earlier. With such a cinematic buildup, the ending felt a bit too hasty. I relished the climax of the book and it would have been even better if those plot threads had gone a little deeper.

While Conversions ending wrapped up a little more conveniently than I would have liked, the eerie mood and frenzied characters added to a cinematic atmosphere. I loved the climbing hysteria, the smart touches of wit that the main character brought to a familiar storyline. This is one that I think will please most who read it.

Recommended for anybody who loves: Paper ValentineFrostImaginary Girls; etc,.

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Top Ten Books People Tell Me to Read

Hey y’all!

I’m here today to do Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week they choose a different topic and bloggers pick ten reads related to the prompt. This week’s prompt? Top Ten Books People Tell Me to Read!

Because I blog, a lot of people assume that I’ve read pretty much everything out, so most of my recommendations are from other bloggers! Aside from that, I normally don’t get too many recommendations for myself. (I’m used to giving books to other people.)

Because of the paucity of those recommendations, I don’t necessarily have ten that people often tell me to read. I do, however, have ten that have been recommended to me in the past or that I’ve discovered through other blogs.

jellicoe1. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta | Goodreads
Recommended by: Willa from Willa’s Ramblings

If you know Willa, she talks about this book nonstop. It took me ages to read. The second I sat down to read it though, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly it went by. It’s a thick book, but you want to savor it. The boarding school shenanigans, poignant questions of parenthood, and startlingly sweet romance are perks of a YA classic.

51072. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger | Goodreads
Recommended by: Reut from Reut Reads (no longer blogging)

Reut practically forced me to read this one – she got it for me for my birthday, so I was obligated to read it. This was one of the first classics I read for pleasure, and Salinger’s readable voice was really great. Caufield’s bitter perspective and overuse of “damn” created an interesting character and narrative that I’m happy to say I’ve read.

112423683. The Accidental Hero by Matt Myklusch (Jack Blank) | Goodreads
Recommended by: Katie from Mundie Moms

I actually won this one in a giveaway, and fell head-over-heels for the world that Matt Myklusch created. This is hands-down one of my favorite favorite middle grades and I can’t recommend it enough. Myklusch actually has a 2015 book coming out from Egmont that I can’t wait to get my hands on!

135222854. The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider | Goodreads
Recommended by: Carly

This was one of my favorites of the year, and I borrowed it from a friend. Ezra was an awesome character and the bittersweet relationships, broken hearts, and adventures scattered throughout the novel were winning. It’s a marvelous book.

145689875. The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro | Goodreads
Recommended by: Riley

A rich thriller steeped in history, this book is a love letter to art. From the fascinating processes of copying a painting to a masterful appreciation of works, it was especially interesting to me because I was going through AP Art History at the time and could recognize some of the pieces. It’s great.

110436186. What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang | Goodreads
Recommended by: Steph from Fake Steph

Steph recommended this one to me at BEA. She talked up the buzz and immediately sold me on the book; especially being a twin, the almost symbiotic relationship between the two souls was heartwarming and thoughtful. The action, dystopian-esque world, and other details fleshed out an excellent start to a series. And Steph’s awesome, so you should check out her blog if you need a new one to read!

87151247. Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando | Goodreads
Recommended by: Kristi from The Story Siren (no longer blogging)

This is one of my favorite books of all time. I was lucky enough to catch the eye of Kristi Diehm while starting out and she was so helpful. She sent me a few books, had some talks with me that I’m now incredibly grateful for, and I ended up adoring this book. It’s vivid and encompassing, a book that stays with me constantly.

187886138. Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho | Goodreads
Recommended by: Doni from Penguin

Bitter, gritty, and strangely compelling, Althea & Oliver is wry and textured. The culture of the ’90s is present in the pages and the bizarre relationship between the namesakes – Althea and Oliver – was complex. It was a little sad, but adventurous, and I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would. It’s like Alaska Young came to life in the pages.

161011289. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey | Goodreads
Recommended by: Mandy from Inkwood

I’m not normally a heavy sci-fi fan. If I read sci-fi, I prefer it to be mostly rooted in our own world a la Origin and devoid of alien life or other freakier imaginations. The 5th Wave is definitely a little dark and very much a science fiction read, but the hurdling pace and stunning backstories create a well-choreographed explosion of a book.

866784810. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness | Goodreads
Recommended by: Mrs. Henson (previous English teacher)

It took me two tries to get through the book just because of the pace, but the passion for academia and slow-building action were irresistible pulls. It’s definitely a book you can escape into, and that’s something I appreciate.  It takes a while to read but it’s worth it; if you’re interested in starting to read adult but don’t want to let go of the YA feel, it’s a good paranormal transition.

What books would you recommend for me?

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