Monday, December 3, 2012

Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials

Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials
Stephanie Hemphill
ISBN: 978-0061853289
Balzer + Bray, 2010

Plot Summary: Wicked Girls tells the story of the Salem Witchcraft Trials in free verse poetry form. Told from the point of view of the main girls involved in accusing many people of witchcraft—Ann Putnam, Mercy Lewis, and Margaret Walcott. The story follows the girls from before they all became “afflicted” to their accusations of witchcraft to the end when it all finally stopped.

Critical Evaluation: Writing a fictional portrayal in free verse is an interesting way of introducing teens to the history of the trials and how a bunch of girls could literally condemn a number of people to death because of mass hysteria they caused. Hemphill includes a character list at the beginning of the story explaining each girl, her role in the story, her age, and how they got involved in the hysteria. The end also includes a note of what happened to those accused, what happened to the girls, and an author’s note. Hemphill focuses the story on the power the girls got from their actions of acting afflicted. This helps give a psychological reasoning for why they did what they did and let it go on for so long. Girls didn’t have much freedom or control over their lives in the 1600s and certainly no power in their communities. Acting afflicted got the girls attention and accusing people that were put to death gave them power they would get from no where else. All three girls have their intentions and they actions investigated—from Ann, 12, who goes from being in charge to following Mercy’s word, Mercy (the servant) who becomes the most powerful, and Margaret (the poor girl) who struggles with what is right and wrong. My only disappointment with the story was that no explanation was given for the fact that the afflicted actions actually began with two eight-year-old girls. Ann gets most of the attention historically but it was really Betty Paris and Abigail Williams who started it all.    

Reader's Annotation: What can drive a group of young girls to cry witchcraft, killing dozens of their neighbors, and walk away not even feeling remorseful?  

Author Information: Stephanie Hemphill's first novel in poems, Things Left Unsaid, was published by Hyperion in 2005 and was awarded the 2006 Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Excellence in Poetry by the Children's Literature Council of Southern California. Her second novel, a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath, Your Own, Sylvia, was published by Knopf in March 2007. A third novel in verse for teens, Wicked Girls, a verse story of the Salem witch trials, was released in 2009. Hemphill has been writing, studying and presenting poetry for adults and children for many years at UCLA, the University of Illinois, with Writers at Work and at conferences across the country. Hemphill lives in Los Angeles (Stephanie, n.d.).

Genre: Historical (written in free verse poetry form)

Curriculum Ties: Salem Witch Trials

Booktalking Ideas: Since the “chapters” are really free verse poetry vignettes, many good be picked to read as attention grabbing snippets. Especially of note including depictions of the girls being “afflicted” and the cries of innocent people when accused and sentenced to death.  

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+

Challenge Issues: Witches, black magic, underage sexual relations outside of marriage

Challenge Defense: If this book were challenged, I would make sure the library has a Challenge Defense File ready for such a situation. Inside the Challenge Defense File, librarians and the public could find:

·        A copy of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights. (Can be found and printed from ALA’s website at
·        A copy of the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement (Can be found and printed from ALA’s website at
·        A copy of the library’s own selection policy (my library, the La Vista Public Library, has a policy but it is not online so I can’t link to it as an example).
·        A copy of the library’s citizen’s complaint/reconsideration form (my library, the La Vista Public Library’s, form is called the City of La Vista Service Request form).
·        Copies of reviews—both good and bad—from reputable library and publishing services to justify why a book was selected for inclusion in the collection. These include not only reviews from such journals as School Library Journal, VOYA, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, but also any mention of books on YALSA lists and other copies of articles about any awards or nominations such books may have received.
·        Include a short rationale file for other coworkers so if the librarian in charge of selecting materials is not available when a challenge occurs the other staff members have some information to go by (the rational would include such information as a short summary, what could be challenged, reviews, awards and nominations, etc.)
·        Include for staff members a copy of “Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials,” a document written by the American Library Association. Make sure that staff reviews this document periodically so they are prepared and know how to face such situations. (Can be found and printed from ALA’s website at

Reason for Inclusion: An excellent historical novel based on a topic that is of interest to teens.  


Stephanie Hemphill. (n.d.). Goodreads author profile. Retrieved from

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