This story is about Kit, a teenage girl who travels from Barbados to Connecticut after her last remaining relative on the island dies. Once in Connecticut, she’s met with suspicion from the entire community she comes to live in. They are Puritans, and this is the 1600s. The fact that she can swim and read automatically singles her out as a witch. Only the powerful presence of her uncle in the community protects her. She befriends a Quaker on the edge of town, an old woman who is already suspected of being a witch, and eventually she herself is accused and brought to a hearing for witchcraft.
The book is remarkable for several reasons. First, the descriptions of setting: the boat she travels on, Barbados, 1600s Connecticut. Second, for all the other descriptions. Ms. Speare must have done tons of research. The reader peripherally hears about all the things people had to do to survive back in a time where they had none of our conveniences and no money on top of it. The way they had to cook, how they had to make candles for the winter, how they had to make their own thread for sewing, etc. It was fascinating. It was historical fiction without dragging on me like a history textbook. Even the politics didn’t drag on me. And above all, the book evoked a great breadth of emotion, which is impressive because it really is hard to connect to characters who don’t share any commonalities with you. These characters, despite working in ways almost incomprehensible in modern society, were perfectly relate-able.
I learned that I would not have wanted to be part of the Puritan society. What a mess! But at the same time, Ms. Speare opened me up to the society so long that I began to see the good things in it, too. It isn’t so black and white. Even Kit, who is supposed to be the counterpoint to the Puritans, can’t be considered all-good in her way of life – she had her own personal slaves in Barbados, for instance, and never thought about her slaves as people. Overall, I think the best part of the book was really feeling immersed in a culture from history, learning more from this than I ever did from history books. Stuff I’ll remember, too.
Oh, and it reinforces my desire to go to the Caribbean.