ARC Review: How to Hang a Witch

3:13:00 PM

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal Fantasy
Publishing date: July 26, 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Rating: ★★★ 3/5 stars

Note: I received this advanced copy from my dear friend MC at Blame it on the Books when she attended ALA Midwinter, given to event attendees for promotional purposes. This is still an honest review, not affiliated with the publisher in any way.

Summary (from Goodreads):  For fans of Conversion and Mean Girls, comes a debut novel where the trials of high school start to feel like a modern day witch hunt for a teen with all the wrong connections to Salem’s past.

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.

How to Hang a Witch blended mysticism and magic with real history and setting. As an avid history nut who is fascinated by the Trials, I was pleased to see the historical accuracy that played a large role in this book. The author herself is connected to the story in a special way; her ancestor and great great great (add about 10 more great's) grandfather was the main persecutor in the Trials: minister Cotton Mather. Adriana brought in a sense of historical accuracy and integrity to this story from her own personal family experiences, loosely comparing the original Trials of three hundred years ago to modern-day bullying. As Sam navigates the intimidating waters of her new high school in a town that hates her family name, she is quickly sucked into a three hundred year old curse at the center of a revenge plot, and Sam must race against the clock in order to prove her innocence and save the ones she loves.

For a debut novel, this was a very strong read. Although it had elements of a cliche teen high school novel at the start, I managed to push past the first hundred pages and really immerse myself in the details I did enjoy. I know many people who DNF'd this book fifty pages in or less; while I can see why they probably did, I just wish they had stuck with it a little longer before really passing judgment. Although the characters felt one dimensional at times and the plot events weren't always realistic, this story had a really good foundation to work from and there were many elements that made the story unique and appealing.

The plot was original and kept you guessing as it unfolded. The world-building took me right into the heart of Salem and set a solid stage for the events of the book. The characters tended to be one-dimensional and the only development I truly saw was through Elijah's character. Mrs. Meriweather, Jaxon, and Vivian were all a tad plain as far as characters go. They each had one certain defining trait about them or were just a representation of a common trope. They each contributed well to the story, though, so I suppose I can't complain too much. Sam's internal struggles were just as real as her external, and though I wouldn't necessarily call her methods realistic when it came to how she dealt with them, this was after all a story about witches and curses.
I had some issues with how conveniently a lot of conflicts were resolved. There was a certain scene where Sam spoke at her school assembly… without revealing any spoilers, there was a whole lot wrong with the way things played out in that scene. No rational people would have just casually brushed off the fact this weird new girl is confessing to the whole school how she has visions and sees spirits. Even if the popular girls at school are rumored to be witches. Not to mention how during the last quarter of the book, all the solutions Sam needed to her problems seemed to just start manifesting everywhere she looked. Obscure ingredients needed for a complicated potion? Eh, don't worry, Mrs. Meriweather has a garden full of everything necessary. Been accused of murder and vandalism and other crimes, with the police on your trail? Four girls go missing and you suddenly stumble upon them? Legal guardian just suddenly disappears? No worries, it's all good! The baker next door and her handsome son will vouch for you, and all is hunky dory and life continues as usual. Ride off into the sunset, police record expunged. Yeah, no, it was all just way too convenient for me.

Overall I give this book a 3/5 rating because it had a strong setting, interesting plot, and a fresh take on the topic of the Salem witch trials. What didn't really fly for me, however, was how poorly developed a handful of characters were and how the plot resolution came together so neat and tidy and without any fuss. I would recommend this book as more of a middle grade-level read for fans of the Trials and spooky things, or for those wanting an intro to the horror genre without too much scary stuff and a good mystery to boot.

Are you excited for this debut? Let me know your thoughts if you can't wait to read or have already read it!

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2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Giselle has read 5 books toward her goal of 50 books.