Hysteria, hallucination or superstition? Stacy Schiff does not provide readers with the answer, but she does give us all the ammunition we need to come to our own conclusions in The Witches: Salem, 1692.
Massachusetts, 1692. The time and place should be immediately recognizable. It was arguably the darkest period in early colonial American history. The colony was dotted with small villages and towns that lingered on the edge of wilderness and the unknown. Harsh winters and Indian raids kept colonists wearily alert. Religion provided guidance, if not solace, in everyday life but did little to dispel the monotony of winter days spent indoors. Could all of this have led young girls to writhe and contort and then accuse others of causing their discomfort through witchcraft, which then led the accused to implicate their own families and neighbors? All in all, 20 people were executed for witchcraft. Nineteen were convicted of witchcraft and hanged while one refused to enter a plea and was crushed to death under the weight of heavy stones.
Little historical documentation of the Salem Witch Trials survived, either due to the shorthand of court transcriptionists or later loss from war. Much of what did survive comes from secondhand accounts or accounts written down years after the trials. Schiff thoroughly interpreted what little documentation survived from 1692 and 1693. Her take on the trials is heavy on facts with not so much narrative. The Witches is a well-researched book about the Salem Witch Trials that focuses on the leaders of the community.
If you want to balance your nonfiction reading of the trials with fascinating fictional versions, check out The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and Conversion, both by Katherine Howe, and Arthur Miller's classic The Crucible.
If you have heard of Scheherazade, the woman who stayed alive night after night by telling a murderous king cliffhanger stories, then you may want to check out A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston, a retelling of The Arabian Nights.
She knows her village is next on Lo-Melkhiin's list. Bound by the laws of men, he has to choose a wife from each city district and each village before beginning again. He has taken three hundred wives and all have died in his palace. She fears that her fiery sister will be his next victim and her love for her sister is so strong that she successfully devises a way to make it impossible for Lo-Melkhiin not to choose her instead.
Her goal is to stay calm and to survive the night at the palace. And she does. When she survives the next night and the next, the servants and guards of the palace take notice. There's something different about her and it has to do with her sister's love and fierce will. Although she still lives, her sister prays to her as does her mother and her sister's mother. Soon, all of the women in her village and in the palace pray to her, and the longer she survives the more her story spreads. Praying to a deceased person brings comfort and goodwill to the living; praying to one who still lives translates to power that person can use to combat evil.
She tells Lo-Melkhiin stories about her sister and her family, falls into trances while spinning thread and weaves images into cloth that begin to come true. Her power grows; but the more she uses, the more she weakens. As she unravels the secrets of the palace and of Lo-Melkhiin, she feels she may have just enough power to defeat evil. For her sister. For her village. For all of the unmarried women under Lo-Melkhiin's rule. For herself.
A Thousand Nights is an elegant and descriptive retelling that stands on its own. You do not need to be familiar with The Arabian Nights to enjoy Johnston's version. The only named character is Lo-Melkhiin, which lends an air of mystery and power to the other characters, especially the women and the protagonist. A Thousand Nights starts off at a slow crawl and doesn't pick up much pace for the majority of the book, but if you can look past that you will find the beauty in the descriptions of the desert and its people and the feminist undertones in the quiet strength and cleverness and power of its women. Look out for Johnston's companion novel, Spindle, its publication date to be announced.
New York Times bestselling author Julie Murphy is back with her second teen novel, Dumplin', in which she explores self-esteem and body image against the backdrop of a small Texas town and its popular teen pageant.
Willowdean Dickson is fat and happy in her skin. For as long as she can remember, her former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet mother has called her "Dumplin'" and has made suggestions about her appearance in what she thought was a helpful way. Her support system exists in her best friend Ellen, their shared love of Dolly Parton and her resilience.
With Ellen working at a Forever 21-esque clothing store and spending time with her boyfriend, Willowdean takes a job at a popular fast food place called Harpy's. There, she meets Bo, a somewhat brooding and very hot guy who goes to a different high school. What happens when you are comfortable and confident in your own skin and then a guy you like starts paying attention to you? When Bo reciprocates Willowdean's interest, she starts to feel inadequate and experiences self-doubt. Still, the two of them can't resist the magnetic pull between them, even though Willowdean's doubts and Bo's baggage prevent the pair from really getting to know each other. Things begin to unravel further for her when Bo transfers to her high school and she becomes overwhelmed with the thoughts and comments of others, real and imagined. Guys like Bo don't date girls like her. To make matters worse, their romance doesn't extend from Harpy's to school.
But if you're Willowdean Dickson, you decide to regain your confidence and screw-what-others-think attitude by entering the most important competition in your small Texas town: the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. At the same time, she and Ellen have a falling out with each other, unlikely pageant candidates gravitate towards her and she ends whatever this thing with Bo is.
Dumplin' is about losing and regaining confidence in oneself no matter what one looks like and relationships between mothers and daughters, best friends and love interests. Willowdean will make readers feel all the feels. Fans of Murphy's New York Times best seller Side Effects May Vary and strong female characters will gravitate towards Dumplin'.
Sending people backward or forward through time has been done so many times that authors Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel decided on a fresh take with time traveling mail in Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My...!
Franklin Isaac Saturday, preferably known as "Ike," is stuck in the social bubble known as middle school. Although his school life isn't super terrible — he's kissed two girls and he's usually picked somewhere in the middle for sports teams — it could definitely be better. Popularity seems to be the only thing the other students care about, and Ike feels that he is always grasping for it. His troubles also include his stepdad, his crush on Claire Wanzandae with her cherry blossom-and-gasoline-scented hair and that his first name is "Franklin" because his dad thought Benjamin Franklin was cool.
So when Ike's history teacher assigns the class an extra credit letter-writing assignment, he chooses to write to his namesake about all of his grievances. As a joke to make Claire laugh, Ike actually mails his letter. Imagine his disbelief when he receives a reply from Ben Franklin a few days later.
While initially skeptical, once Ike believes the correspondence is real, he seeks advice from Ben about his life and, in return and unasked, he feeds the Founding Father tidbits about America's history and present. It's one thing for Ike to share his problems with Ben and quite another thing when Ike shares evidence with him that could affect the course of American history.
Don't be fooled! Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My...! is a teen book in middle grade packaging which is in line with Mansbach's previous books (New York Times bestsellers Go the F**k to Sleep and You Have to F**king Eat). That said, Mansbach and Zweibel created a funny story centered around the idea of mail that can travel through time. Judging from the climatic ending, there may be a sequel in the future.
Fans of Andy Gavin's Untimed, another teen time-traveling novel featuring Ben Franklin and disguised as middle grade fiction, will enjoy this book as well.
Male, female or None of the Above? Surgeon and new author I. W. Gregorio explores intersexuality and gender identity in her debut novel.
High school senior Kristin Lattimer has it all: her two best friends, a full scholarship to college because of her track prowess, the title of homecoming queen and a boyfriend she loves. She enjoys a life that any teenager would want until she decides to take her relationship with her boyfriend Sam to the next level. But her first time is a painful disaster.
Kristin learns the startling truth after a visit to the doctor. She has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), a type of intersex condition. After confiding in one of her friends, rumors about her situation spread throughout school. Suddenly, she has to endure crude comments and cyber-bullying from ignorant classmates and people who don't know her. Her diagnosis forces her to question her identity, her relationships and even her athleticism.
None of the Above is a great introduction to the topic of intersex for unfamiliar readers as they learn about this biological condition with Kristin. It is also a journey of awareness and rediscovery that is relatable to anyone who has experienced a tough time in high school.