- Age Range: 12 and up
- Grade Level: 7 - 9
- Lexile Measure: 0570 (What's this?)
- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Ember; Reprint edition (September 12, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780553539509
- ISBN-13: 978-0553539509
- ASIN: 0553539507
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 832 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How to Hang a Witch Paperback – September 12, 2017
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A New York Public Library Best Book for Teens, 2016
“It’s like Mean Girls meets history class in the best possible way.” —Seventeen Magazine
“Mather shines a light on the lessons the Salem Witch Trials can teach us about modern-day bullying—and what we can do about it.” —Bustle.com
“Strikes a careful balance of creepy, fun, and thoughtful.” —NPR
I am utterly addicted to Mather’s electric debut. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, twisting and turning with ghosts, witches, an ancient curse, and—sigh—romance. It’s beautiful. Haunting. The characters are vivid and real. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down.” —Jennifer Niven, bestselling author of All the Bright Places
“[A]n entertaining story that draws intriguing parallels between the 17th-century trials and modern-day bullying”
"Mather delivers a timely condemnation of bullying and the politics of mass hysteria, while still completely charming her readers with large doses of suspense and steamy attraction." —Shelf Awareness
About the Author
Adriana Mather is the 12th generation of Mathers in America, with family roots stretching back to the first Thanksgiving, the Salem Witch Trials, the Revolutionary War, and the Titanic. Adriana co-owns Zombot Pictures, a production company that makes feature films. In addition to producing, Adriana is also an actress. She lives in Los Angeles where she has a life full of awesome, cats, and coffee. Follow Adriana on Twitter, @AdrianaMather.
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The story starts with Samantha Mather—a direct descendant (like the author) of Cotton Mather, a minister who supported the witch trials—moving from New York to Salem with her stepmother while her father is hospitalized in a coma. She moves into the old house where her father grew up, a place where strange, ghostly things start happening. In school the next day, her last name alone attracts negative attention among other students, particularly a collection of four girls and a boy known as the Descendants. Their family trees include ancestors who were accused, tried, and hanged as witches back in 1692. No wonder they don’t like Samantha.
She gets bullied, and as a teacher, I was slightly put off by how the school population (students and teachers) is somewhat complicit in the bullying. The school administration and her stepmother chalk it up to Sam’s somewhat troubled past. But this is fiction, and as the plot got more mysterious, spooky, gripping, and scathing, it bothered me less because there’s a really powerful and important message buried inside the intricate, twisty plot. But before I get to that message, I want to talk about the characters and plot.
Sam is a great narrator. She’s smart, snarky, and stubborn. She lacks some self-confidence because of all that’s happened to her, but she’s also got a strong sense of what’s right and wrong. As her situation at school gets worse, and she is ultimately accused of being responsible for some freaky and dangerous things happening at the town, all she wants to do is help everyone by solving the problem—a curse on the descendants (including herself) of those involved in the witch trials.
The supporting cast is also well-developed. I like that the Descendants have distinct voices and personalities, and Susannah—the first to reach out to Sam—was my favorite of that bunch. As in many YA books, there’s a kind of love triangle with Sam and two boys: sweet, noble neighbor Jaxon and proper, mysterious Elijah. I only loosely consider it a triangle, and it was never a distraction, but it was quite the contrary, as both relationships were different, unique, strong and necessary to the story.
There are at least two big mysteries, and it was fun watching them converge and diverge throughout the plot. The stakes are clearly raised through the book, and though I sniffed out the ultimate villain, that villain’s true motivations surprised me. I didn’t want to put the book down when I had to, particularly through the climactic confrontation.
What elevates this book toward best of 2016 status is the message. Sam is trying to stop a curse that has been repeating itself in Salem since the witch trials, but the unsubstantiated finger-pointing that occurred then has repeated far too many times in history. Whether it was the “Red Scare” of McCarthyism in the 1950s (the inspiration for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible) or the profiling of different ethnicities in many eras of history including the present, the hysteria is unnecessary. And it happens in high school also if one “popular” group of students socially banish others for no reason other than they’re different. Even without witchcraft, this happens, and hopefully well-written books like this can help point out why that’s dangerous while doing so with an enjoyable story too.
This book exceeded my expectations, especially after reading a few books that didn’t. Maybe my reading dry spell was a curse, finally broken by How to Hang a Witch and its FIVE STAR rating.
Another complained about repetition which probably was a just complaint. It was the same kind of event--a confrontation or rejection or supernatural experience--from chapter to chapter, and Sam the protagonist's reaction was pretty much the same from chapter to chapter. Kind of reminded me of Book I of the Quijote where the Don moves from chapter to chapter getting beat up but still moving on unaffected, whereas in this book Sam gets scared or rejected and is still pretty much the same person she was at the beginning of the book. But the book doesn't pretend to be high brow literature, but neither does the Quijote for that matter. Both are stories well told with twists and turns to keep the interest going. The Sancho Panza here is a very polished ghost who's pretty much taken in stride.
Chapter 30 explains how the ghost does some of his supernatural stuff, a delayed explanation that adds its own level of suspense to the story. Unlike the Quijote I, this book stays on topic. There are no annoying side shows like shepherd stories to distract from the main story line, which might have happened if the author had taken time to explain more about the supernatural, or the fall-out from the witch trials, or--the most troubling omission in this story--why Sam the protagonist never did any homework and never suffered any consequences at school.
In the end, the book gives some sympathetic treatment to the ancestral Cotton Mather, but there's no reconciliation with the descendants of the condemned, the girls who attempted to bully Sam the protagonist in high school. But the most obvious question in all this was neither asked nor answered: who in the hell names their kid 'Cotton'? Would he have felt such a need to prove himself by fighting imaginary witchcraft if he had been named Benedict or Arnold or Donald?