Monday, August 29, 2016

"The Witch of Blackbird Pond" by Elizabeth George Speare

It's been many years since I last read this.  At least two decades, I think.  I thought I remembered what it was about really well, but it turns out I only remembered that the heroine liked to hang out in a meadow and with a lonely old woman who was accused of being a witch.  The rest, I'd forgotten, like that the heroine is an orphan who moved to New England to live with relatives she'd never met, and who is desperately homesick for her old life in Barbados.

I had also forgotten that the novel is set against the backdrop of the Connecticut colonial charter being endangered by a new Royal Governor and getting hidden in the so-called Charter Oak.  I've studied American history a lot since reading this last, and found the addition of those historical events to be especially interesting.

I also couldn't quite remember if there was an actual witch in this book, or only some people accused of witchcraft.  I'm happy to report that there are no actual witches in this, nor any use of witchcraft.  Instead, there are an elderly Quaker woman and a teen girl who are accused of doing things like causing illness, turning themselves into animals, bewitching cattle so they can't be milked, and other such things reminiscent of the Salem witch trials, which do get mentioned here as well.  I've been to Salem, and although much of the town has been turned into a common tourist trap, the history of the trials that took place there is a sobering example of how sinful our world is.  You have people searching for someone to blame for their problems, seeking notoriety at the expense of others, and venting their envy and anger by making all manner of accusations that today we call far-fetched, but which were seen as very serious and real at that time.  Today, people worry that someone is spying on them with their laptop's webcam, or using their cell phone to track their movement -- those would seem far-fetched to the Puritans of this book's time, wouldn't they?  And yet, many consider them real today.

Anyway, this time through, I was really struck by how naive and uncooperative Kit Tyler is through much of the story.  She thinks she can do just about whatever she wants without any consequences, and then is startled to discover consequences do exist, and that they sometimes affect people besides herself.  In other words, she's a very believable representation of a spoiled teenager.  Raised by a doting grandfather in Barbados, she thinks that anything her Connecticut relatives and acquaintances do that is different from what she is used to or wants must be bad, or wrong, and can simply be ignored.  At first, I had a very hard time liking Kit, but by the end, she had grown and matured so much that I liked her a great deal indeed.  She's got an excellent character arc, going from selfish and whiny to being willing to sacrifice everything to save people she cares about.  Like all the best books, it made me think about how I would behave in similar situations and learn something about myself in the process.

You're going to see quite a few YA books crop up on here for the next nine months or so.  I'm tutoring our ninth grade niece in literature and composition, and I plan to review most of the books we read together here.

Particularly Good Bits:

"I know you mean to be kind," insisted Rachel.  "But you are very young, child.  You don't understand how sometimes evil can seem innocent and harmless.  'Tis dangerous for you to see that woman.  You must believe me" (p. 100).

Every morning she woke with a new confidence and buoyancy she could not explain.  In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible (p. 147).

Fear seeped in at the corners of the room (p. 180).

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for one use of the word "damn," a frightening sequence involving a chase and a burning building, and a tense witch trail.  


This is my 45th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club, and my 14th for the Women's Classic Literature Event.

10 comments:

  1. What!? You read that so quickly! I thought you just started it!

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    1. MovieCritic, yeah, this is kind of between middle grade fiction and YA, so it's a fast read.

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  2. I have always loved this book. I appreciate Kit as a character because, as you said, she grows and matures so much during the course of the story. She seemed so real to me when I first read it and that is always the sign of a good book.

    I will be interested to see what else you read with your niece.

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    1. Jennifer -- yes, it's soooo well done. Which is why I included it for my Classics Club list, even though it's for younger readers. It may be simply told, but it is not a simple story.

      I have a really fun year of books lined up for her. Next up is The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton :-)

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  3. I read this for school several years ago and remember it being VERY well-written...definitely one I want to read again. Great review!

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    1. Emma Jane, I hope you can find time to read it again! And thanks :-)

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  4. I was put off by the title for awhile but so glad we read it. Great book.

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    1. Carol, yes, the title can be misleading. I'm really glad I had the chance to reread it after all these years!

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  5. I think I read this years ago? I'm actually not sure. But I have seen several rave reviews of it in the past several months. Seems like people are revisiting it. I'm glad to know you liked it!

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    1. Kara, how interesting that it's come up several times lately! It's definitely enjoyable and thought-provoking!

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