10.24.2012

Currently Reading: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

The Witch of Blackbird PondKit wrinkled up her nose. "Ugh," she exclaimed, "that sour face of hers will curdle my food."

Nat laughed shortly. "'Tis certain she expects you will curdle hers," he answered. "She has been insisting to my father that you are a witch. She says no respectable woman could keep afloat in the water like that."

"How dare she!" Kit flared, indignant as much at his tone as at the dread word he uttered so carelessly.

"Don't you know about the water trial?" Nat's eyes deliberately taunted her. "'Tis a sure test. I've seen it myself. A true witch will always float. The innocent ones just sink like a stone."

He was obviously paying her back for the morning's humiliation. But she was surprised to see that John Holbrook was not at all amused.

Author: Elizabeth George Speare

Synopsis: Kit Tyler grew up swimming and reading Shakespeare in sunny Barbados, and her adjustment to chilly Connecticut life would have been hard enough without the automatic suspicion. Well-dressed, unfamiliar with Puritan manners and customs, and entirely unexpected by her relatives, she's quickly the target of murmured accusations--murmurs which become shouts when she protects a Quaker suspected of witchcraft.

Notes: They don't often make books like this anymore—straightforward, short, happily resolved, but impressively human for all that. Set among witch trials, slavery, Indian raids, and building rebellion against the king of England, Speare leaves the issues to sort themselves out, focusing in on the handful of characters important to the tale.

Kit is unsubmissive in a time when refusal to submit actually meant something. More, she generally limits her disobedience to meaningful actions: teaching a verbally abused child to read, for instance, or helping an aging and outcast widow. Many a modern youth would think herself entirely right in mouthing off to a man like Matthew Wood, whether or not he provided her food and shelter; Kit learns to respect her uncle even as she disobeys him.

The lack of bitterness among the primary characters is astounding. Even sharp-tongued Judith and domineering Matthew show underlying goodness as Kit gets to know them. Gentle Mercy, bright little Prudence, and Hannah and Nat—the former a victim of horrible abuses, the latter a hardworking sailor—are refreshingly honorable and free from self-pity. With the rule of angst heavy over modern young adult literature, it's nice to sometimes revisit characters like these, who spend less time replicating the worst sides of young human nature and more time behaving in a way that even a thirty-four-year-old finds herself wanting to emulate.

The last few chapters are sweet and romantic, with many a deserving character receiving their due. It may seem too easy for modern readers—but for all that there's a place for depictions of life's complexity, I found it lovely to stop and read something basic, where the tale itself recognizes the rare beauty of a pure heart.

Recommendation: Read it for a simple but beautiful trip into a difficult and complicated time.

8 comments:

  1. And this continues to be a contested book for the title alone. Shame. Great review, Jenna, on this classic!

    --Arabella

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    Replies
    1. It's hilarious that this book gets contested for the title when there's not one act or even contemplated act of witchcraft--just a lot of rampant, obviously false suspicion.

      I like the title, anyway. It's intriguing and carries a sense of place with it.

      Thanks for the compliment--and for the copy of the book! ;)

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  2. OK, added it to my Kindle wish list. :)

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  3. This is one of my favorite books of all time. Such a beautiful story, and such REAL characters!

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  4. Yes, it's honestly told, isn't it. The characters are very fleshed out and "real people," instead of just the archetypes that fill up so many stories nowadays.

    --Arabella

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  5. George, I think you'll really like it. If not, at least it's short. ;)

    Shallee and Arabella, I totally agree! I loved how human the characters were--right sometimes and wrong others, good in some ways and less so in others. Fantastic little book; it deserves its place as a classic.

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  6. I have been eyeing this one for over a decade. Maybe since it's such a short read and you recommend it, I will finally get around to it.

    Maybe. c;

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  7. I should pick this up! I read all the E.G. Speares back in elementary school, but I remember very little about them. I remember being disappointed by the total lack of witchcraft here.

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