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How to Hang a Witch
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that How to Hang a Witch is a paranormal thriller set in the historic city of Salem, Massachusetts. It's by Adriana Mather, a direct descendant of Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister involved with the Salem Witch Trials. Inspired by the author's own family history, the protagonist is a Mather who moves back to Salem with her family and faces the wrath of descendants of the witches tried and hanged during the trials of the 1690s. There's a little bit of romance (a paranormal love triangle) with a few kisses, as well as some violence that includes a scene in which girls are nearly hanged, and various people descended from witches die of various causes. Strong language is infrequent and includes "s--t," "dick," "ass," and the like. And the role models include a helpful, encouraging, and loving adult who actually listens to the protagonist.
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What's the story?
HOW TO HANG A WITCH follows Samantha Mather, a direct descendant of Puritan minister Cotton Mather, who must return to her ancestral home in Salem, Massachusetts, when finances force her stepmother to mover Sam's chronically ill father from New York City to a New England hospital. Sam and her stepmother are only welcome by one family: the widow Mrs. Meriwether, who grew up with Sam's dad, and her handsome son, Jaxon. At her new high school, Sam -- who has always been labeled cursed, because people close to her have mysterious accidents -- is targeted by a group of goth girls called the Descendants, whose ancestors are the witches accused and sentenced to death in the witch trials. Even the teachers aren't thrilled about a Mather being back in Salem. When the Descendants' relatives begin to die, Sam's presence is blamed. Meanwhile, a handsome young ghost named Elijah reveals himself to her and offers to help her figure out the way to break the curse that's plaguing the town.
Is it any good?
Fascinating historical elements and an underdog protagonist make this paranormal thriller compelling, even if the romance isn't swoon-worthy enough to demand reader investment. The fact that the author, like her main character, is a Mather, adds an air of authenticity to the way Sam deals with her family's ancestral connection to supporting the infamous Salem witch trials. Sam's uneasiness about being a Mather is riveting, particularly as she's faced with the clique of mean-girl witch descendants.
Even though the plot will definitely hold reader interest, the romance and predictable love triangle are rather disappointing. Sam makes some difficult-to-believe decisions when it comes to Jaxon, a guy so great it makes no sense when she keeps pushing him away. Meanwhile, the paranormal romance between Sam and Elijah is bland and unremarkable. Neither "ship" is easy to root for considering Sam's choices. But if you remove the misguided romantic elements from the equation, the high school-meets-supernatural drama moves along quickly enough to keep readers engaged.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the historical aspects of How to Hang a Witch. What did you learn about the witch trials? Does the book make you want to learn more about the Salem witches?
What do you think about the love triangle in the book? Is it believable? Do you think the paranormal elements work?
Does the author's ancestral connection to the book make the story seem more authentic?
- Author: Adriana Mather
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, High School, History, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: July 26, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.