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3.71  ·  Rating details ·  4,796 ratings  ·  748 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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Jess Scholastic puts its grade level equivalent at 5.9 (end of fifth grade). I'd say that's about spot-on, as long as your fifth grader is mature enough to…moreScholastic puts its grade level equivalent at 5.9 (end of fifth grade). I'd say that's about spot-on, as long as your fifth grader is mature enough to handle the themes. It would be a good one to read WITH your child, discussing it as you go along, at that age. I definitely wouldn't present it to anyone younger.(less)
Susan Because he is a religious zealot who survives on hatred and his self-hate eventually causes him to have a psychotic break? Just a guess.
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3.71  · 
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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
Sep 15, 2013 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.
Leona  Carstairs
4.5 stars

Damn, this book was good. I am not too big of a fan of the format it was written in (poetry/prose) but I really, really liked it! Its short and quick but boi, was it powerful! 👍 if you are looking for a quick and emotional read, I recommend this novel. At first it was hard to keep track of the characters, but I grew familiar with them soon enough. My favorite was Leanora, but I also liked Esther and Sara and the newspaper guy (Richard something, I forgot his name haha)
Aj Sterkel
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
This little book packs a huge punch.

In 1924, the Ku Klux Klan comes to a small Vermont town to “protect families.” As the Klan becomes more violent and influential, their presence impacts every person in the town. This novel-in-verse is told from multiple points-of-view. The characters are different ages, from different backgrounds, and have different opinions of the Klan. Will the characters give in to the Klan’s influence, or will they run the Klan out of town?

“To those who swear our young are
May 17, 2012 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
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
Amelia Jacobson
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: almost-favorite
We read this in English class, and I first I was very confused and didn't love it. It's a very fast read, being a play and all, but the action really picked up. I read Merlin Van Tornhout's part when we read it aloud in class, and I really liked his character and the way he changed his ways (I was so thankful for that).
I FREAKING LOVE THE LAST CHAPTER OF LEONORA'S. I was stunned into being speechless by how wonderfully tied together everything became in Act 5. It was just beautifully written.
Lea Williams
Oct 26, 2009 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."
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.
Jan 24, 2016 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!
Katie Fitzgerald
Though there is a list of characters (complete with photographs) at the start of this book, it was very difficult to keep track of who each person was. The adults frequently sounded like children, and no one sounded especially realistic. The characters mostly sounded like talking heads for putting across certain beliefs that were held by individuals and groups of the time period. Six-year-old Esther Hirsh, part of the Jewish family in the story, was probably the only voice I instantly recognized ...more
Oct 10, 2009 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
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
1. One of the best books I've ever read.
2. The different points of view were rich and real and had me in the palm of their hand. It's just amazing because this story was told by the whole town. You really got to see the far reaching affects of the Klan.
3. Can I adopt Esther?
4. Favorite page by Fitzgerald Flitt:
the flapper
is not the least bit alarming,
not a sign of the declining social standard.
though she drinks cocktails and shows and inordinate fondness
for lipstick and the rouge pot,
we have
Anna Beth
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Witness by Karen Hesse is phenomenally written! Due to this being a verse novel, it’s an easy and quick read. The setting is in a small, Vermont town in 1924. Two characters, Leanora and Esther, are threatened when the Ku Klux Klan Klan comes to town. The KKK quickly takes over the town and everyone is witness to tragedy, friendship, and changing of beliefs. My favorite part of this book was the layout! Karen Hesse lists the characters at the front of the book and each page is a different charac ...more
Michael Fitzgerald
I found the affected style of the book to be annoying and somewhat pretentious. The concept was fine; the story was fine - why exactly can't we have proper capitalization? The consistent peculiarities of the little girl's words also did not work for me. It didn't seem real that someone would be wrong in the same way every single time without fail. The photos and identifications were a little helpful, but for heaven's sake, why go to all the effort and then include MORE names that are not include ...more
May 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Witness by Karen Hesse is a book written in poetry form telling the story of different people through different perspectives. I find this book very interesting and fun to read because of its description and syntax. The book tells one story told by different people and what they think about it. It shows how diverse people can be.

The poetry form of this book gives it a different style making it easier for the story to flow. The divergent character and stories add on to the description and make th
Mel Ann
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Author Karen Hesse truly captured a bit of all the suffering that anyone of color went through back in history. Ms. Chickering embracing Mr. Hirsh and his baby girl, Leanora and her Pa living in an all white town, and some white folks still trying to be the better people when the Klan was strong and feared. This is one for the classroom, this type of writing would teach our children just a bit of history and what went on without over bearing or boring them.
Miss Stamm
Jul 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ooh. Scary but good.
Mikaela Robbins
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Witness follows the story of many different characters taking place in the 1920's. The book is written entirely in the format of poems and switches between perspectives of many different characters throughout the book. It takes place in Vermont when the KKK begins to take roots in the town. It deals with a lot of hard topics, like prejudice and racism, while bringing awareness as to what it was like during this time. I think that this book is meant for high school kids.
not ian  im antman
Jan 09, 2019 rated it liked it
twas ok but was really boring
Elliot Lewis
May 08, 2013 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
Katy McGregor
Nov 29, 2012 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
Rachel Cahoon
Feb 17, 2016 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 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
Rohin Raj
Feb 15, 2016 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
Oct 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childrens, poetry, ya
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
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All About YA : Black History Month BOTM: Witness 1 8 Feb 05, 2017 04:17PM  
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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.” 6 likes
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