Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare
Of all the books I've read for this project, in fact, this one stands out for its engaging writing style - it's hard to believe that it won the award just a few years after Miracles on Maple Hill! I started it on my trolley commute to work, and had trouble putting it down after just a few pages.
Kit Tyler has lived her whole life on her grandfather's Barbados plantation. But in 1687, when Kit is 16, her grandfather dies. After the debts are paid, there are simply no resources for her to continue the comfortable plantation lifestyle she's been accustomed to. Seeing no other good options, she boards a ship for Connecticut, where her mother's sister lives.
Life among Puritans in Connecticut Colony is a HARD adjustment for Kit, but she does make a few good friends, including the book's namesake, an old Quaker woman named Hannah. Eventually she seems to find ways of coping with her new and difficult life, and comes to see the people around her as fully rounded human beings. Kit's perspective as an outsider makes her a good protagonist - life in 17th century New England is probably as surprising to her as it would be to a modern child, though in some cases for different reasons. And as the plain, strict Puritans become more human to Kit, they become more human to the reader also. Pilgrims don't look the same after this book!
Kit's visits to Hannah are frowned upon by almost everyone, and when an epidemic hits the town, Kit is thrown into the middle of things and accused of witchcraft herself. It all works out, though I won't tell you how - but it's a sweet ending. You know that Kit and Hannah will both be all right. And the Salem Witch Trials won't look the same either.
I will also mention that one of my favorite literary characters ever lives in this book. Kit's Aunt Rachel is married to a man named Matthew, and they have two daughters, Judith and Mercy. Judith is a well-written character, headstrong and proud, true to her Puritan life, but also impulsive and funny. Mercy, by contrast, is lame in one leg because of a childhood illness, but has a ready smile and is patient and gentle with everyone. In her quiet way, with a combination of love, patience and tact, she holds the household together. Not unlike Beth in Little Women, but she seems to me somehow stronger.