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Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch…

Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials

by Stephanie Hemphill

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Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials by Stephanie Hemphill is a historical fiction novel in verse relating the events of the Salem witch trials from the point of view of the accusing girls: Ann Putnam, Jr., Mercy Lewis, Margaret Walcott, Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Hubbard,, and Susannah Sheldon. Each poem is told from one of the girls' points of view. The novel begins with them playing a game of "folk magic", which they believe unleashes evil into the world. When two of the girls come down with an affliction, the others join suit. Their reputation as "seers" in the village grants them cache, and they wrestle to keep their newfound power through power-plays, tense intergroup dynamics, and finally, crises of conscience. When the villagers begin to express doubt and the group begins to fall to infighting, the witch hunt ends, leaving the girls mostly outcasts and rejected. The novel follows shortly before the witch trials began to when the furor began to die down. The last part of the novel gives brief information on the real girls, as well as the people they accused.

Stephanie Hemphill's verse is fluid, with lines of occasional brilliance. The very first poem, "Salem", sets the stage with haunting imagery: "The cold is gray and fierce,/bitter as a widow at the grave" (p. 1). With spare verse and a light touch, Hemphill paints a rich picture of the Salem witch trials from the points of view of the girls who started it.

Though her imagery is rich, the characters are where Hemphill really shines. The three main characters, whose poems take up the bulk of the novel, are Mercy Lewis, the orphan servant girl who is both the most strategic of the girls as well as the most affected by crises of conscience; Margaret Walcott, a spoiled, unlearned girl prone to fits of envy and nastiness; and Ann Putnam, Jr., an innocent twelve-year-old who becomes the ringleader of the group, and slowly turns more calculating and cold as the novel progresses. Hemphill masterfully creates both intriguing characters from the outset, as well as a complex character arc for each as they develop through the novel. The progression of each of the girls’ character arcs is slow, but no less riveting for it. Hemphill’s grasp of pacing is superb.

The girls form a united front until allegiances begin to shift and crumble as guilt and remorse sifts through the group. The interplay between the girls as they revel in their prestige in the village, and as they fall to jealousy and remorse, creates a moving drama that displays Hemphill’s grasp of group dynamics and human relationships. The breaking down of the group to power plays and crises of conscience coincides with the increase in voices around the village saying that the girls are not afflicted by witches, but delusional and lying.

Hemphill paints a convincing, subtle portrayal of the disenfranchisement that women experienced in Puritan times; the power that the girls are afforded by becoming "seers" is intoxicating primarily because they are released from that disenfranchisement. While not excusing the girls' behavior and actions, Hemphill does an excellent job of showing what could have motivated such a dark period of history. Few books give such depth and weight to the real accusers of Salem’s history, but Hemphill shows where a suppressive society and intoxication of power can lead. Hemphill shows a real gift for creating anti-heroes that are at once sympathetic and diabolical.

Wicked Girls is an enthralling novel in verse that combines historical events with fictionalized accounts of the motivations and repercussions of the girls involved. Most historians waffle on whether the accusations were fueled by delusional hysteria or more deliberately targeted, but Hemphill comes down firmly on the latter. Some historians have pointed out that those accused conveniently were rich landowners or had wronged the families in some way, which Hemphill works seamlessly into the text: "Goody Osborne/tried to cheat Ann's father and his brothers/out of her late husband's trust.'/'That be a sin,' Lizzie says/I nod and say,/'And Goody Osborne be a witch.' " (p. 66). The effect, overall, of such a casual discussion to destroy another's life, is chilling. The accusations, when made from deliberate targeting and stratagem, take on an unsettling macabre look at the depths of depravity which the promise of power can plumb. However, she is not entirely unsympathetic to the girls. With a deft hand, she balances a very real motivation to have some influence in a society that regularly disenfranchises women and lower classes, while also portraying the girls as cunning and cognizant of their own wickedness.

The only complaint to be lodged against Wicked Girls is that Hemphill fails to take full advantage of the medium. Hemphill shows aptly that she is a skilled poet, particularly when it comes to imagery, but the book fails to demonstrate this very often. The times that Hemphill's skills are most apparent are in the pieces not narrated by the girls, of which there are only fourteen in all. Additionally, the beginning of the novel can be confusing at first due to how many characters are included; Hemphill might have restricted the points-of-view to the three main girls, Mercy, Margaret, and Ann, Jr. without sacrificing quality. Still, these complaints are minor when compared to the complex characters, believable drama, and superb understanding of humanity that Wicked Girls offers. ( )
  kittyjay | Feb 28, 2019 |
Based on the Salem Witch Trials, each short chapter in this book is written in verse from the point of view of one of the accusing girls. It was beyond confusing trying to keep them straight - and I've never been a fan of poetry. Very creative technique - just not my style! ( )
  ErinMa | Feb 22, 2019 |
Salem Witch Trials
  Clippers | Dec 21, 2017 |
2.5 stars

This is a fictional account of the Salem witch trials, mostly told from the points of view of three of the girls who accused many of the people, two 17-year olds and one 12-year old.

I was initially excited to find a fictional book about the Salem witches, but I skipped entire first chapter, thinking it was a quote. Suddenly the 2nd chapter started with another “quote” and I realized – oh, crap! I think the entire book is written this way: like poetry. Or, I guess the term is “in verse”. Not a fan. I skim/read that kind of thing quickly, and don’t really pay attention.

The good part: it was quick! The book did go right at the end with the notes on the real-life people, both the accusers and the accused. Also a note, in general, on why they may have accused so many people. That gave it the extra ½ star, but I’d still like to find a good fictional work on this topic. ( )
  LibraryCin | Aug 29, 2017 |
This fictional account of the Salem witch trials is told in verse by three of the "afflicted girls". When I first saw that, I actually returned the book to the library, sections of books told this way are okay but the idea of reading a whole book this way kind of made my head spin. But I left my book at home last Saturday and decided to give this another shot. In the beginning I found it confusing, I had to keep going to beginning where they gave a brief description of who the main characters were. Once I got into it I really liked it. I was afraid the verse style would focus more on sounding pretty then getting the story told but that wasn't the case at all. I got a very clear picture of what each of the three girls was going through and what they were thinking and going through.

The author gave this tale the spin that the girls felt powerless in their roles as young girls among the Puritans, and this was a way for them to gain power. It was really interesting to see how Ann Putnam's mother manipulated her to take revenge on people and how Ann tried to manipulate her back. I was glad to see the girls feeling guilty although it sometimes felt as though they weren't feeling guilty enough, particulalry the little girls and Margaret who was more obsessed with herself then anything else going on. Susannah really had me thinking, because she didn't fit in with the others and Margaret was the one who told others she was being afflicted. I sometimes wondered if Susannah's affliction wasn't actual siezures or something like that. But that just might be me reading too much into the text.

I really appreciate the authors addition of two sections in the back, one telling us who characters were based on and what happened to them after the trials and a very brief discussion of the various theories regarding why the girls accused others of witchcraft. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
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For Alessandra
First words
Silent, not even the twitter
of insects.  The wind stills
against a distant sky of clouds.
The cold is gray and fierce,
bitter as a widow at the grave.
The trees' bare bony fingers
point crookedly
toward Heaven or Hell
or worse than that, toward nowhere.
Margaret's face turns dust and ice.
She says, "I fear we let loose
a thing what leads to the grave."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A fictionalized account, told in verse, of the Salem witch trials, told from the perspective of three young women living in Salem in 1692--Mercy Lewis, Margaret Walcott, and Ann Putnam, Jr.

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