Book Review: Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill

Title: Wicked Girls
Author: Stephanie Hemphill
Genre: Verse/YA/historical fiction
Format: Hardcover, obtained from local library
Date Read: 02/06/2014 – 05/06/2014
Rating: ★★★



Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill

Okay, a confession: I’m not really a poetry person. I’m all right if it rhymes, and I can even sort of get behind it if I can register some sort of meter. But free verse just confuses me; I just sit there wondering why the prose has so many line breaks. (Okay, I can appreciate it a bit more than that sentence implies, but I would still rather just read it in a series of paragraphs.) So when I realised Wicked Girls was an entire novel written in verse, I wasn’t immediately sure I would continue reading it. But it kinda grew on me.

Wicked Girls is the first in a series of books centred around the Salem Witch Trials that I’m probably going to read. As anyone who frequents this blog on a regular basis knows, I just finished a production of The Crucible a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m kinda hooked on that time and place in history (and totally not ready to let go of the production yet, either, if I’m honest). Hemphill tell the story of the trials from the points-of-view of three of the “afflicted” girls who testified against the “witches”: Mercy Lewis, Margaret Walcott and Ann Putnam Jr. Mercy and Margaret are both 17, while Ann Putnam is only 12. All three discover that in their restrictive, Puritan world, being able to point out who is doing the Devil’s work gives these otherwise ignored girls a real taste of power and a chance to right wrongs they feel have been done in the town.

The thing that drew me into this book was the group dynamics. The main group of girls create a clique; others are let in or thrown out, basically on their whims. Poor little Abigail, who is presented by Hemphill as someone who is very keen to help but who maybe talks a bit too much, is literally treated like a dog by Ann (being told to “sit” and “stay”) but she complies because it is a better option than being treated like she doesn’t exist. (Note: I played Abigail in the aforementioned production, so I have a bit of an attachment to her in any incarnation).

As I said earlier, I’m not a poetry person, but the verse format did lend itself to tinging the entire story with an underlying sadness. Mercy longs to avenge her parents, who were killed in the French-Indian wars. Margaret is engaged to Isaac Farrar, but convinced he has eyes for Mercy, and is consumed by the resulting jealousy. Ann wants to please her mother and father, but most of all just wants Mercy to be her friend. Ann, who positions herself as the queen bee of the group, is the last one to continue testifying in the trials. The others gradually realise their mistakes, and after watching innocent people hanged, no longer wish to go on with their accusations. Ann, being younger, does not fully comprehend the things their actions are causing, and doesn’t understand when her friends (or the closest things she has to friends) abandon her. Even though she acts like a spoiled brat for most of the book, I still felt just as sorry for her by the end.

As far as I could tell from what I know of the Witch Trials (I’m still learning!), the events described were all historically accurate,though sometimes embellished. Stephanie Hemphill is also the author of Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath. I may not be a huge fan of poetry, but I take my hat off to anyone who can take real people and reveal their lives in this format.


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