Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill (Published by HarperTeen, June 29, 2010)
In the winter of 1692, hysteria overtook reason in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, as the accusations of a group of preteen and teenage girls lead to a witch hunt that resulted in the deaths of twenty innocent people who were executed. In Wicked Girls, author Stephanie Hemphill tells the story as a novel in verse, from the alternating perspectives of three of the accusers: Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, and Margaret Walcott, and attempts to explain what might have been the motivation behind their actions.
Ann Putnam Jr. is the oldest child in her family and the leader of the accusers. Her mother has lost several babies and is deeply disturbed as a result. Ann is presented in this book as just wanting attention and enjoying the attention her fits and accusations bring her. Margaret is her cousin who gets caught up in the hysteria as well and joins Ann in her accusations. This causes a conflict with the family of the young man she hopes to marry, as they think it is all nonsense. The third narrator is Mercy Lewis, an indentured servant to the Putnam family. She was the most sympathetic of the three. She had an extremely difficult life with the loss of her family to a brutal Indian attack and then years of servitude during which she was likely horribly abused prior to working for the Putnam family.
Wicked Girls is well written and I think the verse format worked well, even though I don’t usually read very many novels written in this format. Stephanie Hemphill does a good job of explaining the possible motivations behind the girls’ actions and making what they did somewhat understandable, though not excusable. I found it hard to sympathize with Ann and Margaret but I did find Mercy to be a sympathetic character, mostly because there is some historical evidence that two of the people she accused actually did contribute to the trauma she suffered in her life. This was definitely an interesting read and I would recommend it to readers interested in learning more about the possible psychological motives behind the Salem Witch Trials.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.