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Witch ChildReview - Witch Child
by Celia Rees
Candlewick Press, 2001
Review by Su Terry
Mar 6th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 10)

Witch 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 seventeenth century.

“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 noose.

Witch 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 Mary’s 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 (Mary’s 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

 

Su 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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