23 November 2014
Conversion by Katherine Howe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Closer to a 4.5 only because the ending irritated me so much.
A few years ago, 18 girls (and one boy) in Le Roy, New York, came down with a similar affliction that was, at one point, blamed on an autoimmune issue and later on Lyme Disease, and they all eventually recovered and we all moved on from the strange mystery. Conversion, Katherine Howe's first young adult novel, plays with this idea a little bit while including a parallel tale centered around the Salem Witch Trials, where students at an all-girls school in Danvers, MA (not far from Salem) begin coming down with various maladies and the national press starts becoming curious and getting involved.
The book itself ends up being a pretty pleasant slow burn, where the mysteries of what is occurring are doled out in measured reveals, and there are plenty of little red herrings sprinkled about that make you think you understand what is happening, only to be brought down a path you didn't expect. Every time I thought I had it figured out, something else came along to have me doubt it, and that was great. It's really high-quality storytelling throughout most of this book.
And then we came to the end, and this will be spoiler central. For the record, I wouldn't let the ending stop anyone from reading this, as it's quite good, but I found it to be a bit of a letdown.
The hardest thing to do is end something. I get that. With a book like this, that has introduced a lot of complexities and thrown a lot of questions at the readers, the desire for answers is fairly immediate. While there are always reasons to leave questions open-ended and/or open to interpretation, it's another thing to outright give an ending that implies what you believe to be true about the story but doesn't outright give you the sort of closure you've earned for the investment. Yes, it's highly likely that the competing narratives were related and the Salem setting is very real, but, while the environmental angle was disproven, nothing else was in your face and clear about it. I get that the point was to leave it open to interpretation, but I am very much against that sort of open reveal in a book like this, especially ones that deal with a lot of other important issues that could have been solved with some decent closure.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I really think it's one of the better young adult books of the year. I also think it has a conclusion that is bound to irritate a lot of people, so don't beware, just be wary.
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