Written by: Adriana Mather
Published: July 26, 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers (Penguin)
(Amazon / Goodreads)
Synopsis: For fans of Conversion and Mean Girls, comes a debut novel where the trials of high school start to feel like a modern day witch hunt for a teen with all the wrong connections to Salem’s past.
Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?
If dealing with that weren't enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with the Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it's Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself.
**** I recieved an advance copy of this book from the publisher at BEA in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not changed my opinion. ****
How to Hang a Witch was one of my most anticipated debuts. It absolutely sounds like a "me book" so I was really excited to see copies at BEA. And in fact I really loved this book, I think I even liked it more than I expected which is a strange thing to say for a book that has been on your TBR for about a year. But I was cautiously pessimistic going into this book after seeing some mixed reviews and having a few debuts not live up to my anticipation. However, How to Hang a Witch was a compulsively readable YA historical mystery full of magic, mystery, and an atmospheric setting that hooked me.
The setting of this book was one of the things that attracted me to it and is absolutely one of it's best parts. How to Hang a Witch takes place in Salem, Massachusetts which is the perfect place for this kind of story. I felt transported to the town which came alive throughout the book. I could perfectly visualize the cobblestone streets, the clapboard style colonial buildings, the narrow alleyways, and the excessive amounts of cemeteries. It desperately made me miss New England. You see Mather captures the atmosphere and history of New England in this book. You can tell that she is not only intimately familiar with the town itself, but the Witch Trials, other historical happenings, and the spooky and unexplained stories from the town throughout it's more than 300 years in existence. This book is a love letter to a place that embraces its history even when it's a little dark and complicated.
But the already atmospheric and dark setting was further developed with fantastic supernatural and magical elements. And while there were some elements of the story that felt like they could have cliche, they mostly worked to build the atmosphere. There are all kinds of unexplained (and explained with supernatural reasons) events throughout the book that give it this spooky kind of feeling that helped establish the world. It's not scary but it did have me looking over my shoulder and thinking about peculiar events and that feeling you sometimes get when you walk into an old house and wonder if you're alone. It gave a kind of a subtle spookiness to the book that I really appreciated. Then as the book develops more and more magic comes into the world further building that supernatural feel. The magic also connected to the plot and mystery which I really appreciated. It's a slow build that pulls you in an fantastically engaging way.
Not to mention that the plot and pacing itself really builds in a similar way. It starts slow and then totally explodes. There were so many exciting and thrilling steps along the way which built upon one another to make a really engaging plot. Seriously, it just kept building and building. There was a point where I was so anxiously anticipating the big twist that I didn't think I could handle it anymore, which is when Mather hits with the reveal and then a climax that had me on the edge of my seat. It was surprisingly suspenseful which I really loved.
However, I think maybe my favorite thing about this book was the mystery. I love a good historical mystery and this absolutely fit the bill. It perfectly combined the historical occurrences, which you can tell the author did a lot of research on, and connected them with events in present day. Plus it had me curious and questioning everything throughout the book like most mysteries but it was also solvable. And there was so much to solve here. There was more than one crazy twist throughout the book and lots of subtle clues that led you to the conclusion. Plus when it was finally revealed you were left surprised but not totally caught off guard. One of my first thoughts ended up being right, but the reason was wrong. All and all it was definitely a fantastic mystery which helped further establish the atmospheric setting and thrilling plot.
I think my only small criticism here would be with the characters. It's got a pretty big cast of characters all focused around the main character of Samantha Mather. Sam is an interesting character in that she kind of grows on you without any obvious character development. At first she feels a bit cliche but then without even realizing you see that there's more to her. That was kind of the case with a lot of the characters. We just didn't spend enough time with each of them and I think just sort of blended together for me. In the end they did feel complex when you could see that they weren't good or bad, but it was so subtle. And I get that this isn't a character-driven story, something that I honestly liked because I'm a plot-driven reader, but I would have maybe liked a little bit more with the characterizations.
But on the whole, I really loved How to Hang a Witch. It's a fantastic historical mystery full of thrills, magic, an atmospheric setting, and a truly engaging plot. I was really excited about this book going into it and I am happy to report that it lived up to and maybe even exceeded my expectations, something a lot of debuts have not been able to do this year.
Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's a really engaging YA historical mystery that I would definitely recommend to fans of the genre. But I think this would also be the perfect read if you are looking for a complex and mysterious witch read. It's the perfect fall read or really any time of year.
Have you read How to Hang a Witch? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and happy reading.