Senior year is a stressful time, especially at the prestigious St. Joan’s Academy for Girls, outside of Boston. Between prepping for AP History pop quizzes, jostling for class rank and trying not to compete with her friends for top college acceptances, Colleen has enough on her mind even before a mysterious illness suddenly strikes the most popular girls in school. A media frenzy follows as more and more students show strange and varied symptoms. Possible explanations abound, but none seem right to Colleen until she makes an extraordinary connection.
Katherine Howe’s new YA novel Conversion alternates between two narratives. In one, contemporary high school student Colleen Rowley’s senior year at the high-pressure St. Joan’s Academy for Girls is interrupted by the outbreak of an unexplained illness. In the other, set at the beginning of the 18th century, a woman confesses to the role she played as a teenager in perpetuating the Salem witchcraft panic of 1692. Taken together, the two stories dare their reader to rethink the differences between past and present, rumor and truth, and science and magic.
BookPage caught up with Howe to find out more about her writing process, her most influential book and her unusual family history.
Some novels weave their spell on the reader slowly, their incantatory prose administered drop-by-drop, page after leisurely page. Often, such books are written by women and concerned with the unique intelligence of women—which can become a predicament in a man’s world. Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell come to mind. Sylvia Townsend Warner and Marge Piercy practiced the craft in the...