How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather
Available July 26, 2016 from Knopf Books for Young Readers
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.
*I received an ARC of this book from Knopf Books for Young Readers in exchange for my honest review.
I’ll admit it, How to Hang a Witch took me a LONG time to read. Usually I knock out a book in 2-3 days tops (1 day if it’s amazing), but I’ve been reading this one since May because it just didn’t grab my interest.
The beginning is SLOW, a deep dive into cliché high school waters. There’s bullying, oblivious, annoying teachers, catty girls, a cute boy next door…and even though the book is set in the ever-so-interesting Salem, I was BORED. However, once I made it past page 70 or so, the book took off and was at least partially redeeming.
Let’s start off with the good stuff. Where Mather’s book shines is Salem history. She took stories that feel old and worn and made them into something fresh. This book has a little bit of everything—a curse, a ghost, magic, a love triangle (square?) that is sweet but not gag-worthy, screwed up family dynamics, and a good old-fashioned mystery. I loved how modern day feels like history repeating itself. The witch trials were all about fearing the unknown and different. Look at bullying, racism, and the rampant hatred society experiences today. THIS is what How to Hang a Witch is really about, and Mather nails it on the head.
But that is where the greatness ends. The rich history lost itself to one-sided stereotypical characters. Samantha, our heroine, is a stubborn, clumsy girl. (When will authors realize that making a character clumsy does NOT make them endearing? Ugh.) The boy next door is cute in a determined stalker kind of way. The descendants (who sound awesome if they were fleshed out) are completely interchangeable. They’re mean girls. Why? Because.
The characters lack emotional depth and I lacked all empathy for them. There was a lot of history here, rich, INTERESTING history, but the author never delved into it. So the characters are mean because the story called for it, but we get no other explanation. They served as plot placeholders, occasionally providing comic relief or some deep dark secret or warning.
The ONLY character who had any depth was Elijah, who is one of Samantha’s love interests. You can tell while reading the book that he was Mather’s favorite character, as he’s the only one with a truly fleshed out past. I liked him for his unexpected humor, old-fashioned ways, and unwavering kindness. I could’ve read the book from his point of view and been completely enamored.
How to Hang a Witch is a fun, superficial read. Though the plot is layered with rich Salem history, it lacks character development that could’ve made it shine. All in all, not a terrible debut from Adriana Mather.
- Slow beginning
- Lots of fun Salem history
- Cute love triangle (square?)
- Lacks character development