Amy Rosenkoetter's Reviews > Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth

Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg
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Apr 19, 2011

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bookshelves: when-childhood, children-s-books, witches

I remembered reading this as a child, so I thought I'd give my childhood a quick rerun. As I was reading, I found a number of things I remembered and many I'd forgotten, including the ending, which was very satisfying.

On her way to school after lunch one day, fifth-grader Elizabeth chances upon Jennifer, a new classmate, sitting in a tree. She pushes Jennifer's falling-off shoe back onto her foot and a mysterious friendship is born. Jennifer, a self-proclaimed witch, holds a mystique for the very normal Elizabeth, who eagerly agrees to be Jennifer's apprentice witch. Over the course of the next several months, their friendship remains a secret from their classmates, but thrives in spite of that - or, perhaps, because of it.

The ending is a bit of a surprise as Elizabeth gradually realizes that maybe her friend isn't as mysterious as she'd like to be seen. Maybe her friend is just a regular girl like herself, in fact, and they both decide in the end that maybe that's not a bad thing at all.

I love how Elizabeth grows from her awe of Jennifer to the recognition that she is Jennifer's equal. It's a strong validation of the value of friendship in teaching us tremendous lessons. Although witchcraft appears to be a focus of the story, it actually exists merely on the periphery. The real story is about the power of friendship and the driving force of the (sometimes desperate) need to belong and how we don't always make the most perfect choices in our quest for that belonging. The same outcome could have arisen through any number of vehicles, but the choice of taboo witchcraft as the method deepens the sense of the alien and forbidden mystery about Jennifer and only enhances her attraction for Elizabeth.

There's just a breath of race culture in the book, and I can't tell if it's the effect simply of the era in which it was written (1968), or something more. Jennifer is the only black girl in the grade, and her connection to witchcraft hints to me at the influence of slavery and the rituals of African tribal healers. In my mind, I see not the Celtic traditions of Wicca, but the voodoo queens and conjurewomen of the Old South, with their chickenbones, cowrie shells, and colorful headdresses. None of that is ever mentioned, so the connection clearly exists in my own mind, if not Ms. Konigsberg's.

This is a great piece of writing from E.L. Konigsburg, author of one of my other favorites, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler. I might have to reread that one as well.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 18, 2011 – Finished Reading
April 19, 2011 – Shelved
April 19, 2011 – Shelved as: when-childhood
April 19, 2011 – Shelved as: children-s-books
January 7, 2014 – Shelved as: witches

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Gina (new)

Gina Dalfonzo I don't think I ever read this one. I loved "The Mixed-Up Files," though.

message 2: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Rosenkoetter This one was an oddity since it delved into some pretty solid witchery - and it involved keeping secrets from parents, which really isn't cool, but that part wasn't a real feature. It was still an interesting character sketch, in a way.

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