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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

The Minister's Daughter
by Julie Hearn
Young adult 272 pages Atheneum May 2005 Hardcover    

Early in the seventeenth century, England is beset by a civil war between the factions of old religion and the new Puritanism, a more austere route to God’s mercy. The old ways are rife with superstition and pagan rituals, an untoward reverence for feasts and celebrations that invite the Devil’s notice. Puritans want none of the trappings of the old ways, sure that Satan has a hand in excessive merrymaking and frolicking on Sundays.

In one small village Nell, the village cunning woman's granddaughter and Grace, the minister's daughter, are about to enact a personal disagreement that is only the beginning of a scourge that will spread throughout the country, an accusation of witchcraft that sets off a firestorm of hangings and frantic accusations.

Grace is carefully observed by a strict Puritan father, a man ever vigilant in pursuit of his daughters’ purity of thought and action, particularly since the girls are motherless. But Grace is especially headstrong, running off with a young man on the first day of May, the birthday reserved for Merrybegots, children that are sacred to nature. Grace views the consequences of her actions as impossible, begging the plain, but knowledgable, Nell for help.

The village cunning woman's protégé, Nell, a Merrybegot herself, is trained in the healing arts, learning all she can before the old woman's mind shatters completely. Nell informs Grace that she cannot help her; in this instant, their feud is born, one in which Grace holds all the power in a class-conscious society.

Desperate to avoid her father's ire and the shame of the village, Grace begins throwing fits, acting as if possessed, drawing her less-attractive sister, Patience, into the infernal chaos that develops. Over time, to avoid the reality of her impulsive judgment come to fruition, Grace accuses Nell of witchcraft. And who is there to doubt a minister's daughter?

Weaving history, fiction and magic into an engrossing tale of witchcraft, Puritanism, superstition and the unnamable fears of an ignorant public who believe in God and magic spells in the same measure, the author’s protagonist symbolizes the imperfect and uncontrollable female trapped in a patriarchal belief system. It is only through Patience’s confession many years later that the truth is confided.

This fiction is a perfect introduction to history for young readers, revealing a fascinating period in English life, where both God and Satan walk the streets, larger than life, more powerful than incantations. In the throes of hysteria, a small village turns on one of their own, mistrustful and superstitious ere they become infected, beseeching the minister’s daughter for answers. Those provided, though quenching the villagers' thirst for blame, only serve to ignite a conflagration that will leap across continents, to settle finally in Salem in the New World.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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  Luan Gaines/2005 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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