A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials
By Stephanie Hemphill
Cover image retrieved 3/30/13 from
Hemphill, Stephanie. Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2010. ISBN 9780061853289
Double, double, toil and trouble…. Trouble aplenty is served up in this verse novel that relays the tale of the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s. Stephanie Hemphill weaves this famous tale through the voices of seven young accusers in this terrible event. Told in free-verse format, cleverly chosen words impart the sly motives that might have been behind the hangings of several men and women who were accused and convicted of witchery. Words and phrases often bear multiple meanings, with much opportunity for the reader to look between the lines for the deeper meaning in lines such as, “Come Mercy.” Ann’s whisper to my ear / is a plea and a command. “Come with me. Now.” as Ann lures her servant girl, Mercy, into a position as an accuser, which appeals to Mercy as she longs to escape the drudgery of her life as a servant now that her parents have died at the hands of Indians.
The rhythm and flow of the words draw the reader into the accusers’ world, which transforms them from an existence of “be neither seen nor heard” to center stage. I am not left behind. / My eyes bloom wide / and pretty as the rest / of the flowers / growing wild / in the witches’ garden. Sensory imagery and emotion run deep through this novel. Abigail tugs my sleeve and whispers, / “Reverend says Rebecca Nurse / cried till the tears drenched her dress, / repeating over and over like one mad / “You do not know my heart. / You do not know my heart.” The reader is able to easily sense the strong emotion on both sides of the witch accusations.
The topic of this novel is a natural curiosity to many. The easy flow of the novel ensnares the reader, who will find devouring the story easy, despite the four-hundred-page length. Readers will find occasional seventeenth-century vocabulary scattered through the pages, which supports the authenticity of the storyline. Referring to women as “Goodwife” or “Goody” and gentlemen as “Goodman” is one such case. The reader is transported into the setting with terms of familiarity such as this. Customs of the time period also lend authenticity and insight into the mindset that could lead to such incredible accusations against villagers.
Ms. Hemphill pens an author’s note at the end of the novel in which she explains how and why she researched and wrote this book. It is helpful to analyze such background, as it helps the reader connect the format to the plot. Ms. Hemphill acknowledges that no one knows exactly what the motivations were that lead to the witchery accusations. She summarizes her opinion by saying, “ Here was a story of the pitfalls of peer pressure, gossip and girl group dynamics that led to false empowerment” Also at the end of the novel is a summary of some of the real people who were associated with the Salem Witch Trials and what became of them. This wrap-up allows the reader to adequately separate fact from fiction. Ms. Hemphill provides a source list, for those who are interested in digging deeper into this chapter of American history.
Wicked Girls is an appealing verse novel, especially for lovers of historical fiction or teenage girl relationship stories. Betrayal, romance, abuse, dissatisfaction, and catty snips are all woven into the tapestry of the story. This book is a splendid example of a verse novel that effortlessly tells a story. I recommend it for teenage readers to adults, who will appreciate the skillful blend of plot, vocabulary, and subject.
Gillian Engberg (Booklist, Jun. 1, 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 19))
Starred Review* Hemphill follows her Printz Honor Book Your Own, Sylvia (2007) with another bold verse novel based on historical figures. Here, her voices belong to the “afflicted” girls of Salem, whose accusations of witchcraft led to the hangings of 19 townspeople in 1692. Once again, Hemphill’s raw, intimate poetry probes behind the abstract facts and creates characters that pulse with complex emotion. According to an appended author’s note, unresolved theories about the causes of the girls’ behavior range from bread-mold-induced hallucinations to bird flu.
An excellent supplementary choice for curricular studies of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, this will also find readers outside the classroom, who will savor the accessible, unsettling, piercing lines that connect past and present with timeless conflicts and truths.
Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July/August 2010 (Vol. 63, No. 11))
The girls of Salem Village’s infamous witch hunt have been limned in novel after novel; now Hemphill (Your Own, Sylvia, BCCB 5/07) tackles their story in verse-novel format. The short-lined free-verse poems, from one to three pages long, occasionally offer a third-person perspective but mostly give voices to three girls. End matter includes thumbnail descriptions of the real people and what names and events have been changed (though there’s no explanation for the changes), an author’s note describing her approach to the history, and a list of titles for further reading
Marla K. Unruh (VOYA, October 2010 (Vol. 33, No. 4))
Salem Village in the 1690s is a place where fortune telling is shunned in horror, yet twelve-year-old Ann Putnam and her friends play at predicting who they will marry by seeing what shapes egg whites take floating in water. When they see the shape of a coffin, Margaret Walcott, seventeen, fears they have “let loose a thing what leads to the grave.” Indeed, seven girls find themselves on a path that leads nineteen people to the grave. Told with a piercing intensity and exquisite sensory detail, this story will haunt the reader long after the book is laid aside.
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2011 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Booklist Book Review Stars , June 1, 2010 ; American Library Association; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, June 1, 2010 ; United States
Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 2010 Finalist Young Adult Literature
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, July 5, 2010 ; United States
School Library Journal Best Books, 2010 ; United States
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, August 2010 ; Cahners; United States
Society of Midland Authors Book Award, 2011 Finalist Children's Fiction United States
Cider flows inside the tavern,
for Ingersoll’s serves
a hearty stew
of witch fever.
All who enter and imbibe
do lick their lips for more.
Sure as meat makes a pie,
the villagers be certain
that Satan is among them.
The brisk spoons of girls
into everyone’s bowls.
§ Instruct students to close their eyes and listen to the way words paint a picture across your heart and mind. Read the poem aloud.
§ Invite students to participate in a choral reading of this poem. Display the poem via document camera or distribute copies of the poem to students.
§ Ask students to share with a partner or small group emotional connections this poem inspires.
§ Instruct students to rewrite this poem as a concrete poem or on a storyboard, with each line being the caption for a story pane. The storyboard could also be created on a movie maker, such as iMovie or Animoto for students to share with the class.
§ This poem sets the mood for the entire book. After reading the book, invite students to reread this poem. Ask students where else in the novel the ideas in the poem are conveyed.
Other books by Stephanie Hemphill
Your Own, Sylvia
Things Left Unsaid