20 Apr 2018

Review - How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

Title: How to Hang a Witch (How to Hang a Witch #1)

Author: Adriana Mather


Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?

If dealing with that weren't enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with the Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it's Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself.

My Thoughts:

"As all of you know," says Mr. Wardwell, "when citizens of Salem were convicted of witchcraft in 1692, they were sentenced to hang. Witchcraft was a capital crime, and people believed that if they killed the individuals practicing it, they could keep the devil from taking root in their communities."

Holy moly, have I just found my favourite YA book of the year?? Of course there's always a chance there'll be competition but at the moment I doubt I'll soon come across another young adult novel that will capture my attention as much as How to Hang a Witch did.

Adriana Mather (an actual descendant of Cotton Mather, a man who played an important role in kick-starting the trials) draws a clear parallel between what happened to those poor women in 1692 and modern day bullying. While she provides plenty of information about the trials, she also gives us a modern tale that we are all sadly familiar with; Samantha is tormented by her peers at school as well as by an unknown antagonist.

Samantha Mather moves to Salem with her step-mom after her dad falls into a coma. Her last name doesn't really help her win the heart of the locals (she always ends up in situations where people ask for her family name. Let the girl get a library card without having to suffer your reproving looks FGS, people!). She especially clashes with a group of girls who call themselves 'The Descendants' and treat Sam as enemy no.1 from the first moment she steps into class.

I absolutely enjoyed this old-new setting, this mixture of past and present. The Descendants, the great-great-great (?) granddaughters of the women who were hanged back in the 17th century, wear black clothes and practice strange rituals. I didn't think actual witchcraft would be present in the novel, but it was, and not only did it manage to make the plot all the more colourful, it also added the feel of real danger to the story.

Not only the former and present inhabitants of Salem came off the pages but the city itself too. The places Samantha visits are described vividly. Some of these are dark and menacing, those were my personal favourites (the black house, the hanging location...). In the Author's note Ms Mather writes about her first visit to Salem, when she found accommodation in a mansion that was roumored to be haunted. Her spooky experiences in the town are just as much woven into her book as the past of her family, which just makes How to Hang a Witch all the more fascinating.

The plot was really well done, the author showed us masterfully how group hysteria works inside a community. The fact that even the adults appeared to hate and blame Sam for the suddenly high mortality rate in Salem was shocking (I'm looking at you, Mr Wardwell!). Towards the end things seemed to be a bit rushed for no reason, but eventually everything got wrapped up nicely.

If you've heard about How to Hang a Witch before, you probably already know that there is a love triangle and if I also let you know here that Sam is a clumsy teenager with no verbal filter you will see that the book has its general YA novel traps. Because... *shouts* We've seen it before! But hey, I promise you'll fall for Elijah, the ghost boy with a heart-breaking past, and he spends an awful lot of time around Sam so... (Just pretend Jaxon doesn't exist, shhhhh). Okay, I'll stop before I go into full fangirl mode... What I wanted to say is that I wasn't bothered by the love triangle this time.

I also loved that the story involved strong family ties that were worth to fight for. 

"It is the greatest evil of all, to separate people who love each other."

I could get carried away and write pages about this novel but I don't think it's necessary in order to convince you that I totally fell in love with How to Hang a Witch. I'll pick up the second book, Haunting the Deep, soon to see how Sam's adventures continue.

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