From the Back Cover:
Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?
If dealing with that weren't enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials.
Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with the Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it's Salem. But history is about to repeat itself.
I was instantly intrigued by the description of How to Hang a Witch, tying the past to the present through the Salem Witch Trials, and when I realized the author is a descendant of Cotton Mather, I had to read it.
Samantha Mather is newly arrived in Salem after her stepmother was forced to sell their NYC apartment to pay her father's extensive medical bills. He has been in a coma for months, and Sam and Vivian have moved into his childhood home, a huge old house with secret rooms, now vacant after the death of a grandmother Sam never had the chance to meet. It's a big change for Sam, and things quickly go from bad to worse when she starts school and discovers that her last name makes her a pariah. Cotton Mather played an integral role in fanning the hysteria that gripped the Puritan community in the 1690s, and no one in Salem has forgotten it.
The Descendants, an elite group of kids descended from the townspeople executed during the witch trials, rule the school, and Cotton Mather's newly arrived descendant is now public enemy number one. The one bright spot is the cute boy next door, Jaxon, whose mother was best friends with Sam's dad in childhood. Jaxon tries to smooth things over for her at school, but the Descendants are determined to pin the strange things that have started happening in Salem since Sam's arrival on Sam. And when people start dying, Sam starts having visions, and the Descendants seem to know things about Sam they couldn't possibly know, she begins to wonder whether Jaxon really is on her side, or if he's part of history repeating itself.
Sam discovers her grandmother's journals, in which she recorded her efforts to uncover and break a curse affecting Salem and the descendants of executed witches for generations, and Elijah, a seventeenth-century spirit, shows up, first to cause trouble for the girl who invaded his home, but later as an ally and a handy friend to have around as Sam takes up her grandmother's crusade and seeks to end the circle of violence and hysteria herself. But she can't do it alone. She'll have to convince the Descendants--and Jaxon--that the curse is real and that they all have roles to play in breaking it. And when it becomes clear that a force is pulling the strings that is more powerful than any of them could have imagined, only Cotton Mather himself can help his descendant defeat it.
How to Hang a Witch started off a little disappointingly for me as it seemed like it was just going to be another Mean Girls story with Sam's encounters with the Descendants and their efforts to ostracize her. But it quickly became much more. Sam is a very likable character. She's felt like an outcast wherever she goes, and she has had enough heartbreaking things happen to her in her short life to break weaker people, but Sam perseveres. She's smart and wields sarcasm like a shield, but she's secretly yearning for friendship and acceptance. She faces up to her fears and finds the courage to believe in the unbelievable. And I liked the way the history of the witch trials was woven into the present day, with Elijah serving as a link to understanding the time period and the factors that allowed such hysteria to grip a prim-and-proper religious community.
The story has major creep factor and an exciting conclusion that wraps up neatly, but I felt like some things still weren't explained at the end, particularly regarding Jaxon's mother and Sam's father's relationship with Sam's grandmother. And overall it lacked that certain indefinable something that takes a book into amazing five-star territory for me. But I enjoyed it, it kept me guessing right up to the end, and I loved the parallels the author drew between the witch trials and modern-day bullying. How to Hang a Witch is a satisfyingly spooky young adult tale, perfect for seeking some witchy chills on a hot summer day.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
*Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.