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Child by Celia Rees is a most engrossing and very educational account of
the impact of witchcraft accusations on an individual and a community in 17th
century England and New England. This young adult novel presents a very
realistic portrayal of what life was like for a teenager girl during the
I am Mary. I am a witch. These
are the words that open Celia Rees Witch
Child. Set in England and
Massachusetts Bay Colony during the years 1659-1660, it describes the trials
and tribulations of Mary Nuttall/Newbury.
Mary is only 14-years old when she witnesses the destruction of her
home, her pets, and the hanging of her beloved grandmother for witchcraft.
Homeless and without any family to which to turn, Mary is left to the mercy of
a village that suspiciously view her as a witch child. Enter a mysterious
wealthy woman who whisks Mary away to a new life. She gives Mary a new name
Mary Newbury, a trunk of goods, money, and a letter of introduction for
passage to the New World. On the passage to the New World, Mary quickly
befriends Martha Everdale, a widow who adopts her as family; Tobias & Jonah
Morse, a well traveled & educated father & son; as well as the
uninvited attention of Rev. Elias Cornwall. Ever wary, Mary, however, does not
find life in the New England any less dangerous than her home in Old England.
The fanatical Rev. Johnson preaches a diatribe against the evil that lurks in
every corner and behind every tree eager to undermine the virtuous. As the cold
winter winds begin to blow, and as disease, disaster, and food shortage begins
to grow, so does heat of witch fever. When Mary finds herself the focus of
jealous revelry by a cliquish group of girls, vengeance takes a turn for the
Child is written in the format of a diary covering approximately one-year
in the life of Mary Nuttall/Newbury. While some readers may find the return to
the issue of witchcraft slow in coming, I found the realistic description of
life on shipboard and in primitive colonial America to be much more
interesting. (Rees does not spare the bed bugs!) The inclusion of the romance
between Tobias Morse and Rebecca adds an additional appeal in illuminating the
courtship rituals of colonial America. The characters are well drawn and
developed, especially Martha Everdale, the widowed midwife; Jonah Morse, the
scholarly apothecary; Rev. Elias Cornwall, the lonely young minister; Jaybird,
the wise Indian boy; and Rev. Johnson, the maniacal shepherd of his folk. I
found Marys language seems unrealistically sophisticated for a fifteen-year
old. A number of other reviewers point out that Mary is a seventeenth century
well-educated English girl and while challenging for a modern reader, her
language rings true for a girl of her era.
Celia Rees is a family and
adolescent therapist. She holds a degree in History and Politics. After
college, she became a history teacher, then English in comprehensive schools.
She began writing in response to her students who wanted exciting stories set
in England involving ordinary kids like themselves. Her first novel, Every Step You Take (1993), was based on
a true story about a group of teens involved in a murder case. She has written
a number of thrillers including, Blood
Sinister, The Vanished and The Cunning Man for Scholastic's Point
Horror Unleashed series. Still other of her novels take on complex social
issues such as bullying in The Bailey Game
and autism in Truth or Dare. Witch Child is her most current book,
combining her interests in history and politics. She is currently working on
the sequel to Witch Child, entitled Sorceress. It is scheduled to be release
Fall 2002. She has also created a website
for those interested in additional information about Witch Child.
I found Witch
Child to be thoroughly enjoyable. As someone who has taught a course on
Salem Witchcraft, I found that this novel realistically depicted the life and
times of the religiously obsessed and political paranoia on the mid-17th
century. I highly recommend this book to young people AND adults. While the
book has a definite General rating for language and sexual content, violence,
especial against animals (Marys pets in the beginning of the novel) may be too
intense for some individuals; I myself was upset by it. Personally, I cannot
wait to read the sequel!
© 2002 Su Terry
Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in
Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious
Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional
Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in
Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a
Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in
Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay
between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in
the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.
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