Monday, April 5, 2010

Pride, Prejudice, and Witches

I have to admit that I didn’t read many books that could be considered “children’s” or “young adult” even when I was a kid. My parents encouraged me to read a lot so by the time I was nine or ten I was tackling full-length novels by authors such as Terry Brooks and Stephen King. However, there was one book that started as a class assignment and morphed into one of my all-time favorite books: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.

For those who have never read it, The Witch of Blackbird Pond takes place in 1687, and centers around a young girl, Kit Taylor, who is forced to leave her home in Barbados after her father dies and move to New England to live with Puritan relatives. On the voyage north, Kit attracts the not unwelcome attention of a young sailor, Nat Eaton, but also attracts negative attention of other passengers when a good deed reveals she has the ability to swim. A woman swimming in those days was enough to cast suspicion upon her as a possible witch. Throw in Kit’s colorful silk dresses, tendency to talk back to her elders, and friendship with an outcast Quaker woman, and Kit’s colonial life was harder than most.

Initially, I think what drew me to the story (aside from the book report that was assigned to the class) was that it featured a girl who was a bit of a social misfit. I could identify with Kit. That connection grew over time as I continued to read the book as I grew older. Other bits jumped out at me: the prejudice on behalf of the Puritans for the Quakers, the budding romance between Kit and Nat, Kit’s pride in being intelligent and independent, and her reluctance to accept that she must become “less” to be viewed as “more” in the eyes of her strictly religious relatives.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond may be considered a “young adult” novel by some, but it is laden with heavy, thought-provoking subjects such as religious intolerance and women's rights. These are all so masterfully layered by Elizabeth George Speare that I find myself uncovering new gems with every read. How many books written with young adults or children in mind and read in adolescence can continue to speak to an adult mind years later? Not many, I fear.

In fact, thinking about what I would say for this posting has made me want to drag out my old, tattered copy and read it again. If it’s been a while since you read The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I strongly encourage you to give it another read.


-- Jeannie

19 comments:

Meredith Cole said...

I think the best YA books have lots of complexity and layers. The Witch of Blackbird Pond sounds like one of them. I'll have to check it out, Jeannie.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Got to check that one out Jeannie but meanwhile THAT COVER - - - - - Oh that cover is AMAZING, I am having a serious case of coffee-spewing cover envy, aaarrrghhh!!!!

Sophie Littlefield said...

ahem, *your* cover, I meant, in case there was any confusion :)

Jeannie Holmes said...

Meredith -- It definitely has a lot of complexity. I didn't really notice it when I read it as a kid but as I grew older, I began noticing it more. I really do love this book. :)

Jeannie Holmes said...

Thanks, Sophie! I'm surprised you have seen the new BL cover before now. There was a slight "issue" with the old cover so we did a complete makeover a couple of weeks ago. I'm totally in love with this new cover. :)

Kay said...

I read this one many years ago and then read it again when my daughter was in middle school. I think some of the best YA books are the ones that can be read at any time of life. A great book is a great book. Thanks for reminding me about this one!

Gabi said...

Isn't it fascinating how the really good books -- no matter where they are shelved in the library -- can come across with new ideas or a new perspective when you reread them?

Jeannie Holmes said...

You're welcome, Kay! I completely agree. Classic books are timeless and can be enjoyed regardless of age.

Jeannie Holmes said...

Absolutely, Gabi! I'm really glad we decided to focus on this topic. Now I'm thinking of other classic books I read long ago and am wanting to "revisit" them.

*sigh* My TBR pile is growing again... :)

Terry Stonecrop said...

I didn't read YA when I was YA, either, too into my father's trashy novels.

But this one looks good. As an adult, I did read another one about a girl who came up to New England from Barbados to live with Puritans, but she was a slave. I enjoyed it.

I'll have to check this one out. Thanks.

Shane Gericke said...

Damn, that is one great cover! You oughta sell a million just on that alone ... the second million is up to you, naturally :-)

They had YA when I was a kid, but it was along the lines of, "Hardcourt Upset," whereupon Young Chip, white and dashing and manly, saved the day and his high school's honor, on the basketball court. Yawn. Now I don't read YA at all.

Shane Gericke said...

Is Harry Potter considered YA? Or adult books cleverly disguised as YA? Never read them ...

Jeannie Holmes said...

Hey, Terry! You're welcome. Do you remember the title of the similar book you read?

Jeannie Holmes said...

Thanks, Shane! I've gotten great feedback on the new cover.

Harry Potter is YA but is read by many adults, including me. Twilight is also considered YA, in case you didn't know. ;)

Terry Stonecrop said...

Hi Jeannie, Yes, it was called, "I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem", by Maryse Conde.

It's fiction based on a real person. Tituba was actually free in 17th century Barbados, but she fell in love with a slave and followed him to Puritan, Salem, Massachusetts. Talk about bad ju-ju.

Jeannie Holmes said...

I remember reading about Tituba years ago. I think the girls who started the witchcraft accusations in Salem were connected to her in some way, like she was their nanny or something. Regardless, I'll have to check it out. Sounds like a good read.

Joshua Corin said...

Jeannie, that novel sounds so fascinating. There's so much YA literature I need to catch up on...and now I have another great title to add to my list! Thank you.

Shane Gericke said...

Crap. These YA books sound so interesting and now you're gonna force me to start reading YA and now I'll NEVER get caught up in adultland EVER and arrrrrrghhhhhh the pain ...

Kelli Stanley said...

OMG, Jeannie, that was one of my all-time favorite books in the fourth grade!!! I LOVED that book!! You've decided me--I've got to read it again. It's been (gulp) over thirty years, after all. ;)

My other favorite--this one for either fourth or fifth grade, I can't remember--was A WRINKLE IN TIME, and I think that qualifies as my very favorite "YA", for many of the same reasons you love The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

How can you go wrong with a girl being told to love her faults and use them in the war against evil? And how can you miss when evil is a giant subdivision in which everyone conforms exactly to everyone else??

Sigh. I need to re-read that book ...