Fingers are pointed and chaos ensues when a group of high-achieving high school seniors begin exhibiting bizarre behaviors in an all-girls private school located in Danvers, Massachusetts—formerly known as Salem Village.
After queen bee Clara Rutherford falls into a seizure at St. Joan’s, and her best friends are similarly afflicted, fellow student Colleen Rowley receives anonymous texts that urge her to study Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for clues. More girls fall victim to the seizures, and reporters and environmental crusaders descend on Danvers. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health finally declares that the girls are suffering from “conversion disorder,” an illness in which the body “converts” stress into physical symptoms. But after seeing how one of her friends seemed to disperse her sadness over a doomed love affair into other people, Colleen wonders if supernatural powers may be at play. In parallel chapters, Ann Putnam, a primary figure in the actual Salem witch trials, confesses to her local minister that she and the other accusers were lying when they named people as witches. The richly drawn characters and period language of the familiar Salem story are far more compelling than the stereotypically rendered Danvers teens. After a deliberate buildup of escalating tension and suspense in the contemporary narrative, Howe hastily wraps up the story based on actual events that took place in La Roy, New York, in 2012 with a series of unsatisfactory solutions that are dropped on the reader with little or no ceremony.
Slow boil, flat finish. (author’s note) (Fiction. 13-18)