Monday, July 28, 2014

ARC Review: Conversion - Katherine Howe

Conversion by Katherine Howe
Genre: YA, suspense
Published on July 1, 2014
Published by Putnam
Pages: 402
Read From: 7.15.24 - 7.19.14

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 it? 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. . . .


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do really like the simple cover art, with the yellow bird and not much else. There is something very intriguing about it.

Characters: I can't say that I became especially attached to anyone. Colleen and her friends are either pushy or downright jerky and pretty typical snotty clique chicks. Not that I didn't understand their being proud of their academic accomplishments and drive to do their absolute best. I totally get that; I'm competitive, I always strive to do my best, and I am never happy when I screw up. But Colleen and her friends are still cliquish, and totally absorbed in themselves and mean to people who aren't part of the "in" crowd. It's hard to like a protagonist and her friends who are so trivial. Academic smarts aren't enough to make me like a character. I rather liked Colleen's little sister Wheezy, but she wasn't in it much. She just turned up in odd places and her whole family always seemed to forget about her. One character I did come to rather sympathize with, surprisingly, was Anne Putnam. It was weird meeting a sympathetic Anne Putnam, as all of the previous novels I've read dealing with the Salem Witch Trials has always painted her as the ringleader, instigator, and quite the bratty, conniving little witch (no pun intended). It was new viewing her in a different way, and it was interesting.

The Romance: Colleen gets a boyfriend, but the romance is hardly focused on.

Plot: It's the last semester at the St. Joan's private school for girls, and the pressure is on to get college applications in, beat out competition for valedictorian, and beefing up one's GPA. Colleen and her friends are only a few out of many who are feeling the pressure. And then weird things begin to happen, when the school's queen bee falls into a sudden fit during class. Soon, other girls follow, displaying strange tics, hair loss, and garbled speech. No one knows what's happening, and it isn't long before it hits the news. Colleen thinks she knows what's happening. She's been reading The Crucible for extra credit, and it sounds exactly like what is happening to the girls at St. Joan's. Was there more to what happened at the Salem Witch Trials than history tells? Or are the girls of St. Joan's faking it, too? If so, why would they do that? And if not, what's possessing them and what do they do about it? Conversion sounded very creepy, very intriguing, and very exciting. Unfortunately, Conversion is as false as the accusations the girls made against the innocent at Salem Village. It's sloooooow, and the build-up is disappointing. I expected to be freaked out, but there was nothing scary about this book - or even suspenseful. The characters profess to being stressed out and scared over what's happening, but they still all go to classes and get on with their lives. The book mostly consists of news reporters and absurd theories on what's happening. Colleen's realization that the symptoms are like those in The Crucible hardly plays a role whatsoever. She doesn't even realize this until towards the end of the book, and the whole time, the Reader is waiting for it to happen. The only time the book takes a somewhat freaky turn is when one of Colleen's friends starts coughing up pins. On the other side, the parts that follow Anne Putnam, as she confesses what really happened in Salem Village, were much more interesting. But they also turned out to not be all that important to the future plot. They only seemed to be there to inform any Readers who know nothing about the Salem Witch Trials.

Believability: No complaints.

Writing Style: First person, past and present. Colleen's narration is in past tense, and Anne's in present. It worked in both cases.

Content: 7 g--damns. Colleen also relates a night she spent with a guy, in rather graphic detail. (pg 120)

Conclusion: For a brief moment, it seemed like Conversion was going to take a spooky turn. But it ultimately ended with disappointment. I'm fine with open endings that let the Reader decide what really happened. But in this case, it just left me feeling irked and like the book had no point. Which I guess it didn't have one.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, eighteen-and-up.

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