“Howe is a formidable researcher and writer, and this creepy, gripping novel is intimately layered, shedding light on the challenges teenage girls have faced throughout history.”—The New York Times Book Review
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane comes a chilling mystery—Prep meets The Crucible.
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: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago . . .
Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school—Conversion casts a spell. With her signature wit and passion, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe delivers an exciting and suspenseful novel, a chilling mystery that raises the question: what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?
1. Colleen is very close with her girl and guy friends, but she’s also often competitive with them, and they are competitive with each other. Do you think the tension between loyalty and competitive instincts is stronger for girls or for boys? Why or why not?
2. Some historians think that class tensions played an important role in the web of accusations during the Salem crisis. How does the representation of social class in the 2012 story differ from the representation of it in 1692?
3. Other historians think that the major cause of the Salem witch crisis had to do with gender and the politics of social control. What role does gender play in the allotment of power in the 2012 and 1692 parts of the novel?
4. Embedded in the novel is an explicit criticism of Arthur Miller’s treatment of the Salem witch crisis in The Crucible. What is the nature of that critique? Do you agree or disagree?
5. What is the significance of the stained glass window of St. Joan being burned at the stake?
6. In both the 1705/1692 and 2012 storylines in Conversion, the adults have one interpretation of the events, while the teenagers have a different interpretation. Why would these age groups respond so differently in each case?
Katherine Howe is the New York Times bestselling author of THE PHYSIC BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE and THE HOUSE OF VELVET AND GLASS. She is a lecturer in American Studies at Cornell University. She is also a direct descendant of three women accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials, one who was hanged and two who survived. Her books have been published around the world in twenty-three languages to date.