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Witch Child


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About the Author

Celia Rees is the author of many novels for teens. WITCH CHILD is her first with Candlewick Press. After reading about seventeenth-century witch persecutions and Native American shamanism, she says, "It occurred to me that the beliefs and skills that would have condemned a woman to death in one society would have been revered in another. That got me thinking, what if there was a girl who could move between these two worlds?... Mary came into my head and WITCH CHILD began."


Gr 5-9-Journal entries, found and pieced together from pages stitched inside a 17th-century quilt, are said to be the basis of this captivating tale. As her grandmother is executed as a witch by English village folk, Mary Newbury is abducted by a wealthy woman and shipped off to America. During the long, difficult journey, she makes friends with some of the other Puritan emigrants, finding an older woman to draw her into the community. They join other followers of the Reverend Elias Cornwall to travel to a newly established village deep in the Massachusetts wilderness where their very survival is threatened, not only by the harsh physical conditions, but also, the villagers believe, by savage Native Americans and the presence of the devil among them. The healing skills Mary learned from her grandmother make her useful, but also a target for suspicion. She is befriended by a Native American boy who accepts without question the supernatural talents she must hide from her community. When, inevitably, the village turns against her, she escapes to the woods. There is no more to the story in this volume, but eager readers who visit the accompanying Web site will learn that a sequel is forthcoming. While the quilt premise is an obvious ploy, the historical setting is sound and well developed, and Mary is an entirely believable character. Readers already captivated by stories such as Ann Rinaldi's Break with Charity (Harcourt, 1992) or Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Houghton, 1958) will not want to miss this one.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Though much of Rees's debut novel moves at a lackadaisical pace, its opening scenes are riveting: Mary, 14, watches as her grandmother the only family she has ever known is tortured, tried and finally hung as a witch. Afterward, a mysterious protector sends Mary away from England with a group of Puritans bound for a remote Massachusetts settlement an odd haven indeed for a girl reputed to be a witch. The book unfolds through Mary's diary entries. She tries to be "the perfect little Puritan maid" during the voyage and, upon reaching America, travels with her fellow passengers to a new settlement. But there Mary is drawn to the forest and a Native American boy, Jaybird (grandson of an elder who is, of course, a wise healer), raising the suspicions of her neighbors. Crisis looms when Mary becomes the scapegoat of a witch trial centering on the hysterical behavior of a gaggle of privileged Puritan girls (shades of The Crucible). Though the story is filled with authentic-seeming historic detail, Mary behaves more like a 21st-century teenager with a penchant for things New Age than a product of her own era: she is, for example, one of the only settlers enlightened enough to appreciate the local Native Americans ("The Indians go lightly in the world, that is all"). An afterword provides links to a Web site, as well as a request for "information regarding any of the individuals and families mentioned." A sequel is forthcoming. Hampered by wandering story lines and some stereotyped supporting cast members, this seductive material never quite comes together. Nevertheless, it will likely attract teen horror fans who flocked to The Blair Witch Project (a "foreword" hints at similar trappings, claiming that the story has been pieced together from a collection of papers found sewn into a colonial-era quilt). Ages 12-up. (July) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"[An] expertly written, potent novel . . ."
-- "Horn Book Magazine"

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