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3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,727 Ratings  ·  585 Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review

Karen Hesse's Newbery Award-winning skills are put to great use in Witness, a poetic tale about friendship, fanaticism, and the deadly undercurrents of racial prejudice. The story takes place in a small Vermont town in the year 1924, revealing the devastating impact of the Ku Klux Klan on this pastoral, insular community. At the heart of the ta
Paperback, 161 pages
Published March 1st 2003 by Scholastic Paperbacks (first published July 5th 2000)
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this is the way this conversation should have gone down.

"so, i want to write a kid's book about the KKK coming to town and the town's reaction to it from all different perspectives"

"okay, i am listening"

"it will be set in vermont..."

"wait - what?? vermont?? not in the south??"

"no, in vermont. the green mountain state"

"okay, your call. keep 'em guessing, i like it. why pick on the south all the time, sure. everyone thinks vermont is so liberal - we will show them!!"

"okay - and i am going to have
At first, I found Witness difficult to get into, and I was a little skeptical of Karen Hesse's chosen format, namely, writing the book somewhat like a play, insofar as characters switching off in dialog, but poetry because the "dialog" consisted of free verse poems of varying length. Towards the end, I not only grew to appreciate the literary merits of this format, but also grew to like it. Telling the story in this way allows Hesse to convey turmoil that the encroaching Ku Klux Klan, because th ...more
I first read this in elementary school and loved it, then read it again recently for my Young Adult Literature class and loved it even more. It reads almost like a play, with each character (all residents of a small Vermont town in 1924) telling their version of events (the Ku Klux Klan rolling in and starting to recruit) in free verse. Characters include the local preacher, a twelve-year-old black girl, the town doctor, the sheriff, a six-year-old Jewish girl, and a woman who runs liquor. Amazi ...more
Book Concierge

Eleven residents of a small Vermont town in 1924 reveal what happens when the Ku Klux Klan moves in. Neighbors turn against one another and no one is safe, particularly two children: twelve-year-old Leonora, an African American girl, and six-year-old Esther, who is Jewish. The residents of the town bear witness to the events of 1924 in haunting free verse.

I’ve read several of Hesse’s works now, and am in awe of how much she can convey in so few words. Despite using free verse for the ent
May 17, 2012 Taylor rated it it was amazing
Witness is a true story. It takes place in Vermont and there are many things going on in the story. You get to see this from everyone's point of view. In the beginning, all of the characters are deciding whether to be a part of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) or not. That was the major part of the story-the KKK. Leonora Sutter is a young teen, and she's also black. She only has one friend, Ester, who is six years old, and she's pretty much the only child that doesn't want to be involved with the KKK in t ...more
Sep 15, 2013 Molly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult-2013
Why a 5 star rating?:

This is a well written, compelling look at prejudice and hate told through a variety a voices and perspectives. Hesse is masterful when it comes to writing poetry and novels in verse. Because the novel is narrated by a diverse group of characters, you get to experience the story in a different way. It's a quick read that tackles tough subjects and leaves the reader wanting to know more about the characters and the town in which they live.

Plot summary:

"Witness" by Karen Hess
I loved this book. it gave me a lot of information on a girl named leonora sutter. It talked about her life and people that knew her. It also talked about the k.k.k. I hope to read another book like it.
3.5 stars.

Historical fiction usually isn't quite my thing, but I really enjoyed this. It's written in verse, which made everything feel more close and real to me. The characters were all very vivid to me and I especially loved little Esther and the newspaper editor.

The one thing that bothered me about this book was that it was too short. I felt like the plot didn't have enough time to develop and grow. *sighs*

Overall though, I really *did* enjoy this book.
Lea Williams
Oct 26, 2009 Lea Williams rated it liked it
I just finished reading this book of poems about a community in Vermont and the KKK... it was very interesting... my favorite line - "persecution is not american. it is not american to give the power of life and death to a secret organization. it is not american to have our citizens judged by an invisible jury. it is not american to have bands of night riders apply the punishments of medieval europe to freeborn men. the ku klux klan must go."
Feb 26, 2016 Nicole rated it it was ok
I had to read this for my YA lit class. I... have mixed feelings. I don't really know what I think about it. Soooo no rating!
Rohin Raj
Feb 15, 2016 Rohin Raj rated it liked it
Witness was a good book. It was quite enjoyable to read, and the plot was quite different, not something you would see in books all the time.

Witness is about life in a small town in Vermont, post Civil War. Recently, the Klu Klux Klan has moved in. This assures the inhabitants of the small town of one thing : They can't trust anyone. Do, and they very well might regret it. From murder attempts to discrimination, life in the small town does not get any easier.

The writing style of Witness is als
Rachel Cahoon
Mar 18, 2016 Rachel Cahoon rated it did not like it
I just going to be honest here, I hated this book. It was boring. It was written weird. And trying to follow the different characters was extremely confusing. Just like with "Out of the Dust", this book was written as a poem, which once again, did nothing but make it harder to read. In addition to this, there was 11 different characters, and it switched viewpoints after every. Single. Freaking. Page. Because of this I was never really able to bond to any of the characters, or really understand w ...more
Iman Ghazi
Feb 12, 2016 Iman Ghazi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was absolutely astonishing in my opinion. It is historical fiction, but anyone would think that it happened in real life. The author does a great job at showing the reality of the issue of the KKK. Also, having the story set in different points of view is a great idea, because you can really see the different sides and opinions. I got to see the thinking of people who supported the KKK, was against it, or felt indifferent. My favorite character was Merlin, because him being 18, felt re ...more
Oct 13, 2009 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
*Please forgive me for the length of this review. I actually could have easily written a whole dissertation about this novel.*

First of all, I have to say that this book is amazing. At first, I wasn’t sure how a novel could be made using verse; however, Ms. Hesse has shown me that not only is it possible, it suits very well for telling a story through characters’ accounts. As the book is set up almost as if it were a play, it makes sense to have a style of writing that is almost like people talki
Katy McGregor
Apr 18, 2013 Katy McGregor rated it really liked it
Witness by Karen Hesse is an amazing book. It takes place in 1924, where racial hate is a big topic in the town. Life is hard for everyone in the town, especially six year-old Esther Hirsch, who is jewish, and Leonora Sutter, who is black. The town has many different people in it, all telling their stories through poems and sometimes even one paragraph.
In this book, Leonora and Esther both live with their father and have no mother. They form an unlikely friendship when Esther stands on train tr
Elliot Lewis
May 08, 2013 Elliot Lewis rated it really liked it
I have read "Witness" by Karen Hesse, and I believe that it was a very good book. "Witness" is about a town in Vermont where the KKK decides to live in. In the front of the book is a character guide, for the book is written in short, narrative poems by a certain character. I enjoyed this format because it made the book easy to read, but also made you think much more about what the characters were really saying and meaning. The main characters were Leanora Sutter (an African-American girl), Esthe ...more
Jun 11, 2015 Ariane rated it really liked it
The KKK comes to a small town in Vermont. Told in verse from the perspective of a number of townspeople, including a young black girl and a young white Jewish girl, both motherless. Sometimes I forget that the KKK hated more than blacks. I liked how the book showed how individual relationships could change people's opinions. The two young girls are probably the main focus, but I also really liked the spunky Viola character, who is trying to convince her husband that joining the KKK is a bad idea ...more
Jul 25, 2015 Debbie rated it it was amazing
I thought this was a beautiful story written in verse. I was touched by each character's point of view and the depth of Hesse's interpretation of their thoughts, feelings, and actions. This book would work in a read aloud bundle effectively with Sharon Draper's novel, "Stella By Starlight."
Dec 12, 2014 Tristan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, ya, childrens
So I loved this book. It wasn't quite as good as Out of the Dust, but there is a reason that one won the Newberry. I love the multiple viewpoints, which really work to show all the sides of the town: that people who are judged feel, why prejudice and hatred may appeal to some, the way we can be fooled by so many smokescreens. I thought Karen Hesse's poetry was very good, flowing flawlessly, listen: "i felt that old rope of dread/ dragging up the ridge of my spine//daddy', i say". My only real is ...more
Apr 14, 2016 Caroline rated it really liked it
This book was fantastic. I enjoyed going through to see how the characters reacted to what was going on around them. I read this book on my kindle and when I got to the end of the book I thought it wasn't over and I really wanted the book to continue. At the beginning I was a little bit confused though, so I will most definitely read this book again in the future.
May 10, 2015 Emmie rated it it was amazing
This historical fiction took my breath away.It was from the perspective of all the inhabitants of the small town of Vermont. They all experience horrific things the k.k.k. perform. It is truly amazing.
Dec 04, 2015 Ruby rated it really liked it
Really great book. The way Karen Hesse used points of view in this book really helps. You get a great understanding of different thoughts proccesses of that time.
The Book Queen
3.5 stars.

Unexpectedly good! I wasn't expecting to like this book, it's not the type I would normally read, but I actually quite enjoyed it. I'm not a massive fan of the poem-verse style, like in the Weight of Water, but it worked well here. One of the characters speaks in a very weird slang; she's six years old and at times her way of speaking got on my nerves. There are no capital letters either, not on 'I's or proper nouns, and that irritated me as well. But aside from a few minor gripes it w
Kaycee Skidmore
I like the idea of verse telling the story, but it made it difficult to really get into the story and attached to the characters.
Evan W
Feb 22, 2016 Evan W rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sarah Shokry
Feb 18, 2016 Sarah Shokry rated it liked it
Karen Hesse's Witness follows similar themes, ideas, and lesson as her previous works. Hesse writes multiple views in her book showing us each characters thoughts, feelings, and opinions on some situations and topics like the Ku Klux Klan, the racism, and the killings that goes on this book. In my opinion, their were only a few things I favorited in the book and only a few things I could empathize with. Karen Hesse's poem-like technique for this book confused me to my end. I can't help but pictu ...more
Feb 17, 2016 Siddharth rated it it was ok
Witness was a really boring book. I honestly read it to fall asleep at night. I instantly thought of the House On Mango Street when reading it. Nothing big happens in either book, and they both have short chapters in free verse. A difference would be that while witness was in many perspectives, which I found frustrating when trying to keep up with a character The House on Mango Street was in one characters perspective. I forgot which character said what, and what crucial parts happened in the bo ...more
Rian Jagtiani
Feb 17, 2016 Rian Jagtiani rated it liked it
Witness was a pretty decent book. I felt the book had a very strong moral/lesson behind it to teach us and plus give a little bit of confidence to people reading the book.

The book was set in a town in Vermont during the 1920's. The Ku Klux Klan had had started to slowly rise in America and recently moved into Vermont to recruit members. The book displays experiences from many characters point of views which kept the book fast paced, informative and enabled us to see through the eyes of each ind
Feb 16, 2016 Anant rated it liked it
Witness was a book which made you think a lot. This book was extremely similar to The House On Mango Street as it was a very deep book with short chapters. However, like The House on Mango Street, the book was not going anywhere and also the change of perspectives of the characters was overwhelming. It made me forget important parts of the story as many people would not 'show' what happened. The only main part of the story I understood immediately was when Leonora saved Esther.

To add to that, t
Noor Aboul-Hosn
Feb 10, 2016 Noor Aboul-Hosn rated it really liked it
"Witness" is about a town in Vermont, set in the 1920's, that is recently occupied by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The book is written in multiple character's point of views, which is interesting considering the book shows the reaction of many towards the KKK living in their town. The two main characters are Leona Sutter, a twelve year old black girl, and Esther Hirsh, a little six year old Jewish girl. Other characters that readers view the story through are Merlin Van Tornhout, and Harvey Pett ...more
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Karen Hesse is an American author of children's literature and literature for young adults, often with historical settings. Her novel Out of the Dust was the winner of the 1998 Newbery Medal and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. In 2002, Hesse was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship.

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“to those who swear our young are on the road to perdition take comfort in this- every generation has felt somewhat the same for two or three thousand years and the still the world goes on.” 3 likes
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