You see, my years teaching American Lit obsessed me with the Salem Witch Trials, an obsession that morphed into a Young Adult novel. The Circle Girls: Once Upon a Witch has just been released. Not only is my YA my debut, it’s also debuting an entirely new Young Adult line of inspirational romance: Watershed Books. Anya is excited and terrified both.
So what about the book?
While Anya has used real people and events from 1692, the story really explains how we all “witch hunt” today. It’s set in a prep school in 1992...my editor’s suggestion not only to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the terror, but also to keep me grounded from today’s constantly-changing technology. (These fictional kids have the first cell-phones, but that’s about it.) In a kind of dream-scape scenario, a modern-day girl Delli Willis finds herself back in time during the Witch Trials every time she falls asleep.
She’s a fifteen-year old Puritan girl named Deliverance Wyllys. Both girls meet intriguing young men in dark woodsy places. Other parallels emerge. Both see firsthand in their own times how finger-pointing, bullying, peer-pressure, scapegoating and lack of personal responsibility get people in trouble. And got innocent people killed. During a nine-month period in 1692, twenty blameless people were executed as witches in Massachusetts Bay colony. Nineteen were hanged and one man, Giles Corey, was crushed to death over many hours. He never confessed, so that his heirs would not have to forfeit his property.
Hundreds, including a four-year old girl, were imprisoned. Cotton Mather, a respected churchman, added loops to the ropes by claiming that “spectral evidence” (e.g. visions or “shapes” of the accused) could be
used against them if they weren't anywhere nearby.)
And it all boiled down to misunderstandings of nature and vexations between friends and neighbors.
Belief in witchcraft was rampant during this time. Why? People had little scientific knowledge. A farmer had to find a reason when his herd of cows perished from a mysterious illness. Today we know about contagious germs and viruses. But back then, he’d remember a fight he had with a neighbor, or the dirty look somebody tossed him, and...wow. That person had somehow cast a spell on that herd. And so on and on it goes.
Especially when Puritan parents who’d raised their children properly couldn’t believe they’d act up or cause problems. Yet a group of bored girls started it all...
Despite the tragic loss of innocent people, Salem today kind of regales its witchy past. Police cars wear witch logos, the high school mascot is “The Witches”, and sporting events are played on the historical site of the hangings. There are lots of Wiccan and New Age boutiques, and tons of Halloween kitsch especially in October. Yet the Salem Witch Museum of narrated tableaus presents extremely accurate portrayals of what actually happened.
One of my favorite authors Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem. His ancestor Judge Hathorne presided over many of the trials, such an inherited horror that Nathaniel added a “w” to the family surname.
One reviewer has said The Circle Girls: Once Upon a Witch is a book both young people AND their parents should read. The Wordsmith Journal gave it 4 1/2 stars. So maybe you’ll give it a chance!
An ordinary California teenager, Delli Willis finds herself in some kind of dreamscape whenever she drifts off to sleep. 1692, in the hotbed of the Salem Witch Trials. There, she’s Deliverance Wyllys, struggling against accusations and suspicion as well as the appearance of a mysterious dark-haired young man with strange tales of his own.
Back in her own world, parallels with the past abound. She meets a real-life mysterious neighbor, handsome Gabriel. Is he her present? Her future?
Or her past?
She’s eager to share him with her circle of friends but fingers point, jealousies surge. Lies cast, sides taken. A modern-day witch hunt collides with 1692 in ways Delli never dreamed. Standing up to bullies tightens Delli’s faith in God, Who pulls her through some trials of her own.