WICKED GIRLS is a novel in verse that fictionalizes the events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials. The story focuses on seven girls who accused people in their community of witchcraft, an accusation that led, in many cases, to the execution of those accused. The text does not solely concern itself with the accusations and trials but also with the personal struggles of the girls, who were growing up in a culture which did not consider the voices of young women at all, which required endless hard work, even of girls from privileged families, and which escalated the horrors of the witch trials with its own rivalries and superstitions.
The text gives humanity to people whose names but little else are recorded in history. The girls are very human, plagued by dismissive adults and the welcome and unwelcome attention of men. Their concerns range from trivial jealousies to grief over the deaths of family members. The girls’ friendships are the highlight of the story. Their secrets and promises, kept and broken, drive the plot. Even among themselves, they seem to question what is real and what is pretend throughout the first half of the book, and they knowingly restrict others from joining their club, developing an odd sisterhood among those tormented by witches. Fear and the power of suggestion spiral the plot to the finale, helped along by old prejudices and conflicts resurrected by opportunity.
The young women are written complexly. Mercy participated in the ruse in order to escape the difficult work of being a servant. Margaret struggled with and eventually succumbed to sexual pressure from her boyfriend. Ann’s heavy household responsibilities only increase when her mother becomes ill. The other girls hold more peripheral roles, but they are not one-dimensional. They struggle with abuse, family conflict, jealousy of the other girls, and doubts about the group’s role in the deaths of the accused witches.
The poetry reveals the range of emotions through the girls’ voices as they struggle with everything that is happening in their changing community. The character of Mercy begins and ends the book, the poems of her struggle as a servant beginning the book, and her hope of escape from that life ending it. Dramatic irony is used throughout the book, as the audience understands each character’s role more fully and also knows the final outcome of the girls’ choices. The book is properly recommended for a teen audience.
The text of the book is unrhymed free verse. New verses begin with changes in dialogue from one character to another, with a change in focus or attitude of the speaker, and when particular lines are meant to be emphasized. The poems are also written in complete sentences and not fragments. Imagery and metaphor occur often in the poems. Assonance and consonance appear infrequently.
The author also includes factual information at the end of the book in the following sections: The Real Girls and What Happened to Them, The Real People the Girls Accuse, and an Author’s Note, which explains the situation surrounding the Salem Witch Trials. She also includes a partial list of sources that she consulted during her writing.
Publisher’s Weekly notes that the “expressive writing, masterful tension, and parallels to modern group dynamics create a powerful and relevant page-turner,” and Kirkus Review states that Hemphill “skillfully demonstrates how ordinary people may come to commit monstrous acts” (HarperCollins 2015).
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The Salem Witch Museum features videos to prompt discussion on a variety of topics surrounding the witch trials: http://www.salemwitchmuseum.com/videos
Image in the public domain, retrieved from Wikipedia Commons
Hemphill, Stephanie. 2010. WICKED GIRLS: A NOVEL OF THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS. New York: Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780061853289
Salem Witch Museum. Accessed Sept 28 2015. http://www.salemwitchmuseum.com/videos