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Conversion

Review

Conversion

In Katherine Howe’s stunning novel that expertly blends understandable science with the supernatural, four teenage girls at a high-level, prestigious Catholic academy in Massachusetts find themselves surrounded by an epidemic of a mysterious illness that starts affecting the other girls in the strangest ways. As the number of girls afflicted rises, the hysteria grows, and every possible explanation is considered. Is this actually some kind of disease? Or are the causes environmental? Or could this be, perhaps, the work of the supernatural?
 
I’m not writing much more about the summary because everyone should read this book. It is excellent, and I do not want to risk ruining anything for the reader. I hope my withholding of information will entice readers to pick this novel up because this is one of the finest examples of writing and storytelling that I have come across in recent times. I have a feeling that anyone, even those not interested in supernatural or speculative fiction, will enjoy this book because it is so grounded in realism at its core. And those who do love those genres are going to go nuts, especially with the interlude chapters narrated by a girl who was present at the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s, in a town really not too far from where the story takes place.
 
This is one of the finest examples of writing and storytelling that I have come across in recent times.
 
Howe’s writing is superb because she creates an effortless balance between the colloquial voice of a teenage girl and the intelligence of someone mature for her age. It’s the same way with all four of the girls. Colleen, the protagonist, is relatable, humorous at times and wickedly smart, and she drives the story with vigor and strength. Her three close friends --- Deena, Anjali and Emma --- all have very distinct personalities, allowing you to connect to them each individually instead of just grouping them together as a unit. The other characters --- especially Ann Putnam, the girl in the interludes in Salem --- also hold their own. 
 
The interludes are possibly one of the strongest elements of the novel, both standing out as enthralling parts of the story and serving as an entwining thread to the major storyline, and it often spurs people to keep turning the page to see how the two are connected. It also bears many similarities to THE CRUCIBLE, which will be very interesting to those who have read it; it will be exciting for them to see a new take on familiar material.
 
Howe also excels at keeping the audience guessing the whole time. Even after revealing the solution in the last ten pages, she still slid in bits that made me reconsider if what I had just been told was really the truth. The pacing always clipped along quite nicely, but it never went so fast that I felt like things were progressing unnaturally; Howe makes sure that the audience never misses a thing.  She also slips in pop culture references that aren’t overbearing and have the right place in the story, but will make readers chuckle at their presence. Howe also doesn’t let any of the romantic relationships in the story turn cliché or melodramatic, and if you ever roll your eyes at anything, it’s because you were supposed to.
 
Equal parts science fiction and borderline horror story, CONVERSION is a simply fantastic novel. But it’s only simple in how much praise it deserves, because this story is anything but simple. Complex, riveting and original yet filled with recognizable material, CONVERSION is a stellar novel with all its parts coming together to make a whole that’s a whole lot of fun. I just loved reading this book, and I hope/know that other readers will too. You will want to finish it in one day, like I did, and it certainly won’t be leaving your mind for a while after. A tense story supported by well-written characters, CONVERSION shines brightly despite its dark contents. Now park that behind on the nearest comfy piece of furniture --- you’ve got a great book to read!

Reviewed by Corinne Fox on July 7, 2014

Conversion
by Katherine Howe

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2014
  • Genres: Youth Fiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0399167773
  • ISBN-13: 9780399167775