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Conversion

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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. Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school, this is the mystery that raises the question, what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?

402 pages, Hardcover

First published June 4, 2014

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About the author

Katherine Howe

14 books2,239 followers
Katherine Howe is a #1 New York Times bestselling and award-winning writer of historical fiction and nonfiction. Her best known books are The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list in 2009 and was named one of USA Today's top ten books of the year, and Conversion, which received the 2015 Massachusetts Book Award in young adult literature. In 2014 she edited The Penguin Book of Witches for Penguin Classics, a primary source reader on the history of witchcraft in England and North America. She co-authored the bestselling Vanderbilt: the Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty with CNN's Anderson Cooper, which came out in September 2021. Her next novel will be out from Holt in Fall 2023. She holds a BA in art history and philosophy from Columbia and an MA in American and New England studies from Boston University, A native Houstonian, she lives in New England and New York City with her family. She also puts hot sauce on everything.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,594 reviews
Profile Image for Rayne.
852 reviews288 followers
June 10, 2014
We're not even halfway through 2014, and I'm almost certain this has been my biggest 1-star year to date. True, most of it is due to the facts that, a) the more I read YA, the more my standards go up and my tolerance threshold for BS and stupidity lowers, and b) the more time I spent in GR, the less afraid I am of giving out 1 stars. I don't think it's entirely up to me, though. This year has come packed with an avalanche of pretty bad YA books. This year alone, I've read offensive books like They All Fall Down, infuriating ones like Dear Killer, thoroughly disappointing ones like Suspicion, appallingly bad ones like Of Monsters and Madness and Amity, and insufferably generic ones like One Past Midnight. And then there's Conversion. Where does Conversion stand? Well, Conversion achieved the impressive feat of falling into every single one of the aforementioned categories.

This book is offensive, infuriating, thoroughly disappointing, appallingly bad and, yes, even insufferably generic because, instead of focusing on the, I don't know, maybe that super weird thing that's happening to the girls in the school that no one seems to be able to explain, we instead get to find out about the marvels of Colleen's eternal pursuit to intellectually demean everyone around her, especially her friends and love interest, as she goes about on her quest to take for herself what seems to be the only spot available at Harvard this year. And I understand where the author is coming from and that she tried to portray the stress of being a teenage girl in a highly competitive background, but it simply did not come through. Instead of driven and competitive, Colleen was insufferably immature, judgmental and petty, not competitive in an intellectual way but in the generic YA way of hating on other girls just cuz. I didn't think it was possible, but Colleen came out of nowhere and safely positioned herself in the group of the most unbelievably irritating, hateful, petty, hypocritical, judgmental, immature, childish, bratty, privileged, self-entitled and disgusting YA "heroines" I've ever had the displeasure of reading about. She almost took the crown right off of House of Night's Zoey for the worst YA "heroine" it has been my misfortune to become acquainted with.

The book is just pages and pages of Colleen describing things in the irritating and endless monotone of a 10 y/o, giving you the entire life story of every single person that crosses the door, and then criticizing and demeaning every single one of them in her head as she saw them as competition. I like a smart girl. I love reading about smart girls in YA and I wish every single author in YA portrayed each and every single one of the main characters as smart girls, not because a hot guy comes along and tells them, but because they know it, because they've worked for it and because they are proud of it. But there's a clear line between pride and entitlement, ego-centrism, selfishness, pettiness, obnoxiousness and pretentiousness, and Colleen crossed that line, set it on fire and the danced on top of it. And the worst thing is that she really isn't even smart at all. She reminds you time after time of how brilliant and clever she is, and yet the most painfully obvious things and details fly just right over her head. Moreover, she thought she was entitled to intellectual superiority rather than actually working for it, as perfectly exemplified by this scene in which the goes into a quiz without having studied, acknowledging she's going to flunk, and then ranting at the teacher when she gets a failing grade. That's not how you show someone under stress because she wants to be the best; that's how you show how much of a spoiled, entitled brat a character is.

If she hadn't already annoyed the hell out of me with her obnoxious, immature, childish and unsubtle way of telling the story, the way she saw the world from her privileged, pretentious and egocentrically superior standpoint would've done the trick because I honestly didn't care about anything in this book, never managed to put any effort into feeling anything for any other aspect because my hate was so fiercely concentrated in this awful main character.

And it's not so much that I wasn't able to like her. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't need to like a main character in order to be invested in her story, but what I do need from a main character is to be interesting and interesting Colleen was not - she wasn't even a decently written character with dimensions and personality. Even stuck in the middle of a strange series of events that no one can make head or tails about, Colleen is the most appallingly boring person in the entire planet. This girl could make the end of the world sound as mind-numbingly boring as staring at a piece of cheese until it rots. There is no suspense in this novel, no atmosphere, and it was definitely not a thrilling, deep and psychological study in the events that take place in the novel and those in the Salem Witch Trials. By far, the most interesting thing in this novel was the dual POV that takes place during the actual witch trials, but even that was overdone, dragged for far too long and tediously boring.

Each and every single character in this story is painfully generic, extremely shallow and awkwardly stereotyped. Worst of all, not a single one of them was interesting in the slightest. Everything in this novel was mind-numbingly boring, and it's not because of the slightly literary style of the novel, but because the narration focused on everything besides the truly interesting event, which was the mysterious condition of these girls, and when it did concentrate on it, it was boring, repetitive and rather pointless.

There wasn't a single aspect of this book that I enjoyed. Even if I had managed to look beyond the unbelievably boring pace and the bad writing, the sheer ridiculousness of the characters and the narration's unwillingness to focus on the truly important matters would've still made this reading experience a terrible one. It's almost like the whole thing was dumbed and watered down because it's supposed to be YA. Whatever shred of interest I may have had in the mystery of this book was brutally stripped away by the tediousness of the pace, the boring development of the story, the insufferable main character and the lack of dimension to the characters and the plot.
Profile Image for Sarah Elizabeth.
4,670 reviews1,268 followers
August 19, 2016
“How on earth could they think feeding a urine cake to a dog would be a solution?”


This was a YA mystery story, about a group of girls at a private school who fall ill with a mystery illness.

Colleen was an okay character, and I appreciated how hard she worked to be valedictorian, and how much effort she put into her school work, even if it meant she was a little slow on the uptake when it came to her friends.

The storyline in this was about a group of girls at Colleen’s private school, who all fell ill with strange symptoms, and nobody could work out why. We also got some chapters which were set during the Salem witch trials, and had Colleen trying to puzzle out the connection between what happened then and what was happening at her school currently. These Salem chapters were a bit weird though, and it took a long time for the correlation between the past and present really came to light.

The ending to this was okay, but there was still a bit of a question over exactly what had happened.



6 out of 10
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,568 reviews55.6k followers
January 4, 2020
Conversion, Katherine Howe
Senior year at all-girl’s Catholic school St. Joan’s Academy has just begun, and Colleen Rowley and her friends are feeling the heat. Applications to Harvard, the battle for valedictorian, the high expectations of their parents, meeting boys in Cambridge . . . all of it has turned school into a pressure cooker.
Profile Image for Laura.
812 reviews238 followers
August 12, 2014
This is more of a 3.5 star read. I really enjoyed jumping between times but I thought that the 2 stories would eventually come together. However, in the end, they read like two separate stories. The build up was very intense but the final conclusion was very lacking. The author tries to explain the correlation between the two narratives but I still didn't see the likeness. This had so much potential for a 5 star but the ending was just bad. I still love this author but this book missed the mark for me.
Profile Image for Allison Larkin.
Author 6 books1,645 followers
December 9, 2013
Witchcraft, conversion disorder? What's really happening to the girls of St. Joan's?

Katherine Howe's latest book is smart, suspenseful, and brilliantly executed. You won't be able to put it down.
Profile Image for Josh.
132 reviews25 followers
September 24, 2014
My apologies that this is going to sound overly critical, and I am appreciative for the chance to have a copy sent to me in exchange for an honest review via the Goodreads first reads giveaway. In the spirit of honesty, I must say this book didn't develop into the somewhat spooky, mysterious, and twisted tale I had hoped it would become. I kinda knew 20 pages in where it was headed, but I kept hoping the story would ramp, evolve, and mix the historical tale together with the present day teenybopper coming of age almost Valley Girl flavor narrative. For this reader, the strokes never blended.

In her notes section, the author described the genesis of the book but remarked that in her initial fleshing out process it didn't strike others as deeply as it resonated in her own head. "To my surprise, my students didn't see a parallel." Put me in that camp as well.

Later she hits on what I would guess the real root of the point to this book by stating, "it bears considering why adolescent girls living at the dawn of the twenty-first century, with all of its technological, medical, and social advances, would still be under so much stress that their bodies, quite literally, cannot take it." Interesting enough in terms of a concept (and I certainly agree) but not one I want to muse over for 400 pages.

For a more entertaining look at that topic, I'll listen to Jack White sing about his take for 2:51 in "Freedom at 21". Not at all the same approach, but more entertaining for me. In fairness, the audience she writes about might find more parallels than I did; just don't go into it looking for deep writing and complex themes. Sorry, wish I could be a little warmer, but it just didn't hit the mark for me.
Profile Image for Bren fall in love with the sea..
1,537 reviews259 followers
December 2, 2020
“When a Girl's on a pedestal, there's nothing some people would like better than to shove her off it, just to know what kind of noise she'd make when she shattered.”
― Katherine Howe, Conversion

I read some reviews of people saying this was much like Megan Abbott's The Fever. I respectfully disagree.

The plots have much in common but certain things are quite different.

When I started "The Fever" I was hooked by the end of the first page. It was also a very eerie read. And despite the classification of "young adult" I looked at the Fever as an adult novel about young adults more than anything,.

With Conversion, the plot is interesting and is my kind of plot.

Kids at the local school are being struck with a mystery illness that mirrors, in some aspects, the Salem Witch Trials from long ago.

The thing is though..this one was..or felt ..way WAY more YA. Very YA. And there was nothing, for me anyway, eerie about it in the slightest. It also moved extremely slowly.

I wouldn't say it was bad at all but I would not give it more than a 3. I gave The Fever a 4.

The thing about Conversion is I kind of hoped it would be creepier than it ultimately wound up being. Still an interesting book but not one I felt strongly about.
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,079 reviews17.2k followers
April 2, 2017
2 stars. Conversion is the story of a group of girls who fall ill at a Salem private school. There's a touch of witchcraft, a touch of girls who spit up metal, and a touch of... plot points so nonsensical that I'm not entirely sure I didn't hallucinate them. Unfortunately, when I say a “touch” of those things, I mean that the rest of the book is a generic story about a girl who's stressed in school. Seriously.

There's not much dimension to anything besides the plot here. The character development didn't make sense. The protagonist is petty, rude, and unlikable. There was also a romantic student-teacher relationship, which didn't work for me. Everything's a vehicle for the plot, which would be fine, but the plot doesn't work.

Let's talk about nonsensical plotting. I know my opinion on the ambiguous plotting here would generally be considered a case of “it's not me, it's you”. But Conversion ends up boring, tonally dissonant, and lacking in atmosphere. The intention is there; there's a clear attempt at a creepy, small-town private school. Yet it somehow just ends up flat and boring. This book also flurries back and forth between being a high school story and a creepy story, with no across-the-board-tone. It ends up reading like a bad high school story with witches shoved in.

In general, this just totally failed. Definitely not recommended.
Profile Image for Brittany.
232 reviews20 followers
August 11, 2015
I have been looking forward to this one since I first started stalking the author’s Pinterest board last year. I was so excited to see Conversion up for grabs on Netgalley, and it did not disappoint. I couldn’t put it down! Conversion is smart, yet accessible enough to appeal to young adults. It alternates between the Salem witch trials and the real-life mystery illness of early 2012 that caused a handful of girls to develop PANDAS-like symptoms. You will race through this one as you read to find out what happens to Colleen and her friends. I plan to recommend Conversion to our American Lit. teachers as a companion novel for the Crucible. I think it will also make a fantastic book club selection, as the slightly ambiguous ending should provide lots of fodder for discussion.

Aspiring valedictorian Colleen Rowley is dealing with the stress of her last semester of high school at the exclusive St. Joan’s Academy when several of her classmates develop a mysterious illness. What is causing the girls’ tics, headaches, alopecia, and a host of other bizarre symptoms? A range of theories involving vaccines, strep, and environmental pollution are proposed. Some of these answers seem to fit, but why is Colleen’s friend Anjali vomiting pins? Why has the girls’ AP history teacher Mr. Mitchell been replaced with an underemployed academic as his long-term substitute? Colleen tries to uncover answers as she simultaneously works on an extra-credit project about the infamous Salem Witch trials, which happened right where she lives in re-named Danvers, Massachusetts. Could the two events possibly be related?

Katherine Howe expertly weaves together two parallel stories with stunning results. Readers of her first novel will love Conversion, including the shout out to Deliverance Dane’s main character Connie Goodwin. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction as well as YA contemporaries.
Profile Image for Audrey.
371 reviews86 followers
July 6, 2014
I love the history of the Salem Witch Trials. A native Southern Californian, when I had an internship in New England, the only weekend trip I took was to Salem. I’ve been there multiple times since I moved to Massachusetts, and find the history fascinating. When I saw that Katherine Howe was writing a new young adult novel that had some basis in the Salem hysteria, I knew it was a must read. Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

Howe tries something interesting in Conversion. She links the current phenomena of mystery illness among high school students to the hysteria in Salem in the 1690s. The current school in Danvers, MA is a hotbed of stresses: girls worrying about grades, competing with each other for class rank, hoping to get into their ideal colleges, and, of course, boys. Then, the coolest girl in school starts to twitch uncontrollably in class.

This book had so much promise. It just didn’t work for me for the reason that some other young adult books by adult novelists don’t work. Howe doesn’t write in a convincing teen voice. Her first-person narrator comes across as inauthentic and stilted. On top of that, it takes her much too long to draw certain connections that are obvious to readers from the outset. There was much face-palming while I read this book.

While young adult fiction must seem like a goldmine, not all authors should attempt it. It isn’t as easy as it seems to write a good young adult novel, and Howe just doesn’t pull it off. It’s too bad. Conversion is a good idea, poorly executed.
Profile Image for Q2.
293 reviews28 followers
July 23, 2014
So I see some pretty harsh reviews below, but I loved this book. How tells the story of a group of girls at a Catholic school who, one by one, fall ill with a mystery malady. This book is told from the point of view of one student as she navigates an intensely competitive Senior year, friendship drama, etc. etc. The confounding story of the girls at St. Joans is written right alongside a dramatization of what happened during the Salem Witchcraft trials. I thought most of the girls portrayed in this book were pretty accurately self-absorbed (even the girls from the 1700s!); one review mentioned how one-dimensional the characters were but I'm sorry to say that I kind of think most high-schoolers ARE one-dimensional and even stereotypical, lol.

What did I like? I loved how the narrative of 2012 and of the 1700s are told side-by-side. I loved how the author-Howe-keeps coming back to her witchcrafty roots (she's a descendant of women accused of witchcraft). I love the ambiguity of whether or not there was real witchcraft involved, a psychosomatic disorder, or just fakery. What I didn't like? That there aren't more answers...but, how can there be?
Profile Image for Jane .
17 reviews16 followers
December 23, 2022
EDIT HALF A DECADE LATER IN 2021: Ignore the half ramblings of my teenaged self - I shall be rereading this to see if it was actually as bad as I made it out to be or if i just had problems.

DNF at page 36. I know. A record.
June 25, 2014
I read Conversion with three black cats on my lap, feeling very witchy (even though cats don't really have anything to do with witches traditionally), reluctant to put it down for more than five minutes at a time. I was completely and totally absorbed in Howe's book. What first piqued my interest was the Mystery Illness, and Howe delivered all the tension, unease, and fear you'd expect to find in a book about an epidemic. But Howe also incorporated Ann Putnam's account of the events at Salem in 1692, with the same elements. Colleen's place in the middle of an epidemic and Ann Putnam's place of power in the Salem Witch Trials paralleled each other in a lot of ways, so that even when they weren't directly related to each other, they were connected. There was a great deal of subtlety in Conversion, from the implied causes of the outbreak and the way the girls' relationships progressed to the way Howe incorporated a piece of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. (I grinned like an idiot when Connie showed up. No shame).

Even though the Salem Witch Trials happened over 300 years ago and a mystery illness like the one that befalls St. Joan's seems too strange to be true, Howe writes them realistically. I can't begin to imagine the hours of research it must have taken to get Ann's story down, or to follow the progression of the Le Roy Mystery Illness of 2012 (which Colleen's story is based off of). My hat is off to Howe for that. She even managed to create a fairly accurate portrait of high school, which is damn near impossible. To be fair, not every little detail was spot-on realistic - Howe definitely added some flair to Colleen's story to make it even creepier - but even the more outlandish bits felt plausible.

The atmosphere of Conversion practically earns a star all on its own. I got shivers up my spine reading it. Colleen's story freaked me out because an unknown "illness" was infecting a bunch of people with no known cause and that's just a bit scary. Ann's story was creepy more because there wasn't any illness, just a whole load of lies that led to hysteria and paranoia and 20 deaths. A lot of stories about the Salem Witch Trials are told from the point of view of an outsider or an accused woman; it was interesting and a little freaky to hear Ann Putnam's version of events. I was hoping Conversion would be a little eerie, and it was.

I loved the diversity of the characters in Conversion, from their personalities to their backgrounds. Both the modern and historical casts were developed (some more than others, of course) and helped to drive the story. A few times their interactions became a bit cheesy, but to be honest high school is pretty cheesy, and I'm no holding it against anyone.

Definitely, definitely read Conversion if you like creepy-but-not-scary books or have any interest in either the Salem Witch Trials or the Le Roy Mystery Illness. It would also make a great book club read; there's plenty of things to discuss. Conversion was a very well put-together book, and it's made me a fan of Katherine Howe's. I want to see what else she can do.
Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,407 reviews256 followers
September 6, 2015
All the girls at St. Joan's Academy in Danvers, Massachusetts are under a lot of stress senior year. They are all expected to hold it together until they can't any more. A mystery illness begins to spread around the class - Clara, the queen bee, develops uncontrollable tics in the middle of the day and then it seems to spread to her closest friends. Her friends develop completely different symptoms from coughing fits to hair loss. Rumors begin to spread and blossom into full blown panic. As the media descends, everyone's looking for someone to blame. Is it pollution, stress, or are they faking? Colleen, who has been reading The Crucible, realizes there was a similar outbreak in their town three hundred years ago when the town was called Salem Village.

The most interesting part of Conversion by Katherine Howe is that the story is based on true events. Howe does a good job of connecting both past and present in the novel. I also remember seeing the news coverage of the girls in Le Roy, NY back in 2012.

Unfortunately, I had a difficult time connecting to Colleen and the other girls at St. Joan's. I think my main issue with Colleen is that she's fake, shallow, and pretentious. In conjunction, I also felt disconnected from everything else that was going on in the story. I think I would have preferred the novel to focus on either the past or the present rather than incorporating both, especially with the way it ended since it didn't seem to fit.
Profile Image for Melodie.
588 reviews64 followers
August 30, 2015
I am not usually a fan of young adult fiction, probably because I'm no longer a young adult. But a good story is a good story. And this is a good story. It is a comparison of young girls in the same location in two time periods, 1706 and 2012.
In 1706,the circumstances that led to the Salem witch trials are the focus. In 2012, a tony private girl's school, and a Mystery Illness afflicting a growing number of the student body. Is it hysteria born from a spiteful bunch of girls or something more other worldly? Is it really just drama or is it something more sinister?
I read this more as a sort of fictional case study.I enjoyed the characters and the comparisons drawn between the past and the present. The ground zero characters in each time period were very different in life circumstances but twins in their ability to garner attention and create mayhem. And I was amused at how easily the adults in both time periods were seduced into believing and acting on what was truly unbelievable.
Sadly though there are very real consequences to all these behaviors and innocent people in both time periods lose their jobs,reputations and in the 1700's their lives. Depending on where the reader falls in the belief spectrum of witchcraft the book ends on an ambiguous note. Was it all fake, a psychological phenomenon, witchcraft or a combination of it all? The author lets the reader decide.
Profile Image for Jeninne.
1,096 reviews27 followers
October 30, 2014
I often joke around that once in a while I come across a book so terrible that I want my money back. Most of the time, I don’t mean it. I’m generally of the belief that buying a book is like going to a restaurant you’ve never been to before. It could turn out to be so wonderful it has you coming back for more without hesitation, or it could just be the luck of the draw that it’s so bad you lose your money and your time. Of course on special, rare occasions, when books are like restaurants, you end up with food poisoning and you want your fucking money back.

I want my money back with this book.

Because this book. This book with its main character. This book.

Let me tell you about Colleen. Colleen is a narcissist. She thinks she’s amazing. I mean, not to brag or anything, but she’s been in AP classes forever, and you should recognize that those are very hard to get into. In fact, some classes like AP history, limit its spots, so only the best of the best get in. Colleen is like one of those poor girls who gets bumped out a spot. Oh, and she’s going to be valedictorian, not because she works the hardest, but because she deserves it. Because people just deserve things, and she is so much better than that other girl. She’s been working way longer for it that that girl. But Colleen is also so gracious she’ll pretend to be nice to said other girl, because did I mention, Colleen is a fake bitch?

Yes, that’s right, Colleen is faker than boobies in Beverly Hills. She has all these friends (she’s totes popular, but not TOO popular, because no one likes those girls) that she’s nice to, but talks mad shit about behind their backs. And she has a comment or observation for all of them, because some of them just aren’t that special, if you know what she means, and others of them try too hard, and yet still, some are funny, but clearly that’s to compensate for other things. Yes, Colleen’s shit talking is endless in this book, and not limited to her friends. She makes throwaway comments about how she often forgets her sibling because she’s so quiet, and teachers are nerds, but that’s okay because I guess nerds are chic right now.

Let me put it like this, Colleen is the most pretentious, self serving, shit talking, hypocritical, judgmental, righteous bitch I have come across in a very long time. This girl thinks the sun shines out of her ass. And I want to punch her in the face.

Other than that, the plot is boring and the characters are generic.

I want my money back. This book gave me food poisoning and I want my fucking money back. I can’t even believe I actually made it through this thing.
Profile Image for Margaux B.
55 reviews65 followers
October 11, 2022
This book is a mix of historical fiction and a mystery, as we learn of two young females in two very different time periods that asks - are their lives all that different? Hundreds of years apart?

The stories are told in modern day (2012) and the Salem witch trials (1690s). The author contrasts the stories of pampered young girls at a modern private high school with those during the harsh times of Colonial America by using Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Making the point of how young girls have ALWAYS faced hardships and always will… That females are easily dismissed by a patrilocal society. Plenty for bookclubs to discuss.

I did appreciate the theme of young females facing toxic levels of pressure - from society, their peers, their family, and themselves - found in both stories. I enjoyed the fictionalized Salem Village tale narrated by Ann Putnam Jr the most. Furthermore, I wanted to know what happened next. The modern day tale of Colleen Rawley? Not so much.

You will have to suspend belief to keep reading this book for both timelines, with the more unbelievable scenarios occurring in modern day. The odds of certain events happening were Mega-Million Lottery level and yet, they happened. Several times. There were lots of threads about various disorders, a budding romance, external and internal pressures, and a wee bit of possible witch crafting. Not many stitches in the modern story held me to it. Plus, the interactions between Colleen and her teacher (Ms. Slater) as well as the MA Health Dept official disapproved Colleen's belief that as a young female, she was being dismissed. It was the opposite.

Overall, this book didn’t speak to me. Too much didn't make sense and I had a problem with the writing style. It was feast or famine with Colleen's words . . .

“That always was the weirdest part about Clara–she embodied her Clareness in an utterly unironic way. Not unaware, though. She knew what she was doing. But knowing what she was doing was part of the ineffable being of Clara.”

“Out of the car, doorbell, and Mark answered.”

. . . and it took me out of the story. A story that I felt could have been told in half the pages.

I expected more. Especially after reading the Author’s Note. It fell short in having us question whether it was conversion disorder or witchcraft and the resolution, just no. Occam’s razor told me so.

Perhaps I expected too much from this YA thriller, as it didn't work for me. I cannot recommend.
Profile Image for Debbie.
515 reviews69 followers
August 7, 2022
I completely enjoyed this. I am not normally a YA reader, though on occasion I read one-usually because I didn’t realize it was YA. However, I like this author, and I like the way she tied in two semi-parallel stories, one involving strange symptoms at a competitive all girls’ school, and the other a confession in 1706 from a witch accuser to a minister. I liked the strength of the young narrator, Colleen, and I adored her family. It was funny at times, and quite poignant at times. It takes place in Danvers, MA, which was originally called Salem Village, and is close to my hometown.
Profile Image for Amy H. Sturgis.
Author 39 books378 followers
January 6, 2015
In Conversion, Katherine Howe alternates between a current-day health panic in a female private school and the 17th-century witch hunts that took place on the same ground - today's Danvers, history's Salem Village, Massachusetts. Howe captures the runaway train that is hysteria and peer pressure quite well as she describes young women who are under severe stress while, at the same time, they're enjoying a sense of power and visibility previously unavailable to them.

What I most appreciated about this novel was how the author drew parallels between the mob-mentality hysteria of the past (witches!) and similar movements today that rely more on kneejerk emotional responses and pseudoscience rather than reason and serious inquiry (scares about inoculations, toxic waste, etc., without proper research or evidence).

In short, I liked that Conversion points out how we can be swept up in conspiracy theories and scapegoating. It's easy to look judgmentally on the tragic mistakes of the past, but Howe points out that we're not above similarly bad behavior today.
Profile Image for Jessica McReaderpants.
240 reviews1 follower
May 17, 2014
I think I am too bitchy now to review books- all of my books read this month have gotten two stars- there should be a footnote ability *this book was read and reviewed while in the throes of hormonal hell- Saying that I just felt this book was a retelling of the same tired old salem witch trials- hysterical girls- blah blah blah- the only twist is that it is happening again at a posh girls school and this time you think it is hysterical girl-itis or is it? Perhaps Emma is a witch. I dunno- I just didn't grab me- It was predictable and yawn. Maybe it really was the devil in the shape of a yellow bird. Just. not. really. This book did not meet the standard for being included into my personal library. It will be going to my local libraries book swap- perhaps there it will go to someone who will appreciate its literariness.
Profile Image for Colleen Houck.
Author 23 books8,940 followers
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August 22, 2016
It's so strange to label this book as both historical and contemporary. I loved the back and forth and was absolutely captivated by the glimpses of the past. I'd always liked the yellow bird on the cover but now that I've finished the book it creeps me out a little. When you read it you'll understand why. What an interesting concept. Still have a shiver down my back.
Profile Image for Audrey Graser.
473 reviews27 followers
April 12, 2016
Very similar to The Fever by Megan Abbott. I found that Conversion was heavy-handed, long and boring. Cool premise, but Howe didn't take it to the next level.
Profile Image for Mike Cuthbert.
392 reviews5 followers
August 3, 2014
I have always been fascinated by the psychological underpinnings of the Salem witch trials of the 17th century. The irrationality of the New England of that time and the horrific damage done to lives and reputations based on nothing much more than the ravings of teenagers has vibrated in me through various incarnations, most directly the McCarthy trials in our 50s and more recently the political rantings and ravings, mostly on the Far Right in American politics. In both cases, rational thought and mutual respect were and are suspended and character assassination is seen as a positive virtue. In the case of this novel, its author constructs the book as a duet: one voice is from the period of the trials in Salem Village, the other from Danvers, Massachusetts, 2012. It is not coincidental that Salem has been renamed Danvers and this is noted when an apparent case of witchcraft breaks out in Danvers. Called the “Mystery Illness,” its symptoms include raving mania, collapse of limbs, jumbled ravings and, in one case, vomiting of needles. Confined to one school, a high-class Catholic girls’ school named St. Joan’s Academy, the illness draws the attention of epidemiologists, religionists and various scandal-fans as they all, in their own ways, pursue the reasons for the illness. The protagonist of the novel, Colleen Rowley, at first is a horrified observer of the effects of the mania but she tends to yield to it as she lives with the destruction of lives of her friends and the pressures of senior year. Paralleled with St. Joan’s and the Mystery Illness are accounts of the Salem Witches and their travails as chapters alternate by centuries. There, too, the victims of the madness were all friends and neighbors, but there, too, adults who could be blamed for having influence were blamed and some of them met death by fire, hanging or drowning. Howe keeps the action moving and the parallels not too broad, but they are unavoidable, especially when a rational teacher, Ms. Slater, suggests to Colleen that she read The Crucible of Arthur Miller. Colleen gets the point but becomes so taken up with the Illness itself that the book falls by the wayside. There is an ostensible and reasonable explanation for the Illness and it makes sense that what happened in 2012 probably happened back in the 1600s in Salem. That it happened before and that it was largely preventable does not lessen the fact that we read so little that we might not be able to understand that we’ve been here before. And that facts and reputations are not to be messed with. To do so invites ruin, no less today than it did in the 1600s in Salem. This is not a superstitious novel. It doesn’t sensationalize the events it portrays. Maybe that’s why it’s so chilling to realize how little we’ve learned across centuries and how willing we still are to destroy people, especially women, who are merely manipulating us for their own mysterious purposes through our emotions rather than our rational minds. A very good summer read.
Profile Image for Melissa.
106 reviews7 followers
January 22, 2015
For a mystery, I find this pretty boring and uneventful. There are very little advances in the "mystery" plot, and a lot of drag. The Salem story line is so darn boring I often find myself saying "Blah, blah,blah" just to help pass the time.



I feel like this book could have been something exciting, but it really fell flat. I've always enjoyed reading about the Salem Witch Trials, so I thought this book would have been a sure fire hit. Not so.



I'm only halfway through, but it is going to drive me bonkers if something interesting doesn't happen to speed this read up a bit. Even the spooky bit about Angelie coughing up fish bones barely held my attention.

Not sure if I am going to make it to the end. I'll just look for a spoiler so I can move on to something with a bit more umph.



So I finished this book.

All I have to say is "Uh," she demurred.


Profile Image for Emily.
1,698 reviews37 followers
November 9, 2015
3.5 stars

This was a page-turner, and the modern story seemed so familiar, I had to peek at the author's notes at the end to see if it was based on something that really happened. It was. Obviously the historical segments in Salem were based on actual events.

The true story that this (the chapters set in 2012) is based on is fascinating and weird, and I enjoyed reading Howe's fictionalized version.
There was a little too much going on, though .
The Ann Putnam chapters got tedious after a while too, and it wasn't fun to read from her point of view. The present tense narration when she was telling Reverend Green her story from years before didn't make sense to me. Using the present tense when the setting is in the past drives me crazy anyway.
It was a good choice for teen book club. With the factual basis, the subject matter, and an ending open to interpretation, we'll have plenty to talk about.
Profile Image for Trisha.
4,536 reviews157 followers
February 20, 2015
I knew pretty early on that this book and I were not going to get along. Luckily, I did this as an audio book so I could roll along with the story while trying to ignore all the glaring ridiculous ones.

I think this book is a GREAT example of how a YA book can be okay for kids of that age and not translate well for an adult.

I couldn't buy off on how anyone handled the sickness. I love tales of the witch trails in Salem but even that couldn't save this one.

It's just boring. and way too long.

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