How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather
Series: How to Hang a Witch #1 (future books will be based on other descendants, not sure if the series name will remain the same)
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Date of Publication: July 26th. 2016
Goodreads Partial Synopsis (full spoilery synopsis here):
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 almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?
With the fall season come all of my favorites…hot cocoa, warm sweaters/scarves, fallen leaves, reds/Brown’s/creams/yellows, and last but not least…WITCHES! my favorite season is upon us & I decided I’d pick up How to Hang a Witch in anticipation of its arrival. To best describe HTHAW, I would say that it has some elements of both the CW’s Secret Circle & the 90’s cult classic “The Craft”. I picked up HTHAW after hearing that it was a Young Adult book loosely based on the Salem Witch Trials. The fact that the author Adriana Mather is a direct descendant of Cotton Mather, an influential person (not in a good way) in the trials, further motivated me to give this book a go. I’ve always been intrigued by Salem’s history & plan one day in the near future to visit the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Massachusetts https://www.salemwitchmuseum.com/.
Now, on to my review…
We start off with our main protagonist Samantha Mather arriving in Salem with her stepmother Vivian, a decision made to be able to better cover her father’s hospital expenses. Sam’s dad is in a coma at the start of the story & it is clear that Sam and her dad Charles are very close. Relocating from New York to Salem, Sam isn’t feeling very optimistic about a new high school. Believing herself to be cursed because of all the accidents that have taken place around her, Sam is just trying to keep a low profile. Whelp! This may have worked in any other place that wasn’t Salem but as a direct descendant of Cotton Mather (just like our author), she doesn’t exactly receive the warmest of welcomes. In a town filled with the descendants of the original key players of the Salem Witch Trials, Sam is unfairly left to deal with the tension & animosity stemming from Cotton’s role in the tragic events. We get introduced to a group of high school students that go by the name “The Descendants” aptly named since they all are direct descendants of the original accused witches & townspeople. They were also all named after their descendants, we have Susannah, Alice, Mary, Lizzie, and John. They all dress in black & stick together in everything they do. The town itself takes its history very seriously and respect the descendants and their families. Salem is now all about witches, down to the sheriff’s cars that proudly display witches on their doors. The teachers honor the accused by assigning a yearly project to re-enact the trials. Sam seems to be outnumbered, everyone from the students, teachers, and librarian look at her & see only her ancestor Cotton Mather. Not exactly helping (but I loved!), was Sam’s take no ISH from nobody attitude. Not easily intimidated, Sam does seem to view the girls as dangerous after a series of “incidents” leave her shaken up.
At first I thought to myself, are these people really going to ostracize this teenage girl before giving her a chance? I kept reading & the accidents that happened around Sam in New York seemed to have followed her to Salem…. maybe there’s something legitimately wrong with Sam? I won’t give away the answer, but I will say that I loved the paranormal aspects of this book. I also really enjoyed the small town feel & how Sam a native New Yorker adjusted to the change of pace. As a fellow New Yorker, just like Sam I found myself wondering who I could & could not trust in this town. I loved that she & her stepmom moved in to her dad’s childhood home and the description of a grand old house. The house itself having many charms & secrets. Most of all I enjoyed the flashbacks to conversations between Sam & her dad during tough moments in her life. It was in these moments that we got a glimpse of Charles, the man in the coma. Sam would often think about her dad & what he would say to give her the courage to stand up to adversity.
The supporting cast of characters were small seeing as Sam didn’t really make any friends, but the standout character for me was Mrs. Meriwether. Sam’s neighbor who also happened to be her dad’s childhood best friend, lived alone next door with her son Jaxon who is the same age as Sam. I LOVED Mrs. Meriwether once I began to trust her & stopped thinking she was trying to poison people through her delicious baked goods haha! (Kudos to Ms. Mather for re-creating a town filled with distrust). No but seriously, the woman can bake! Every time there was a scene with her, she was baking in the kitchen all sorts of different recipes for her bake shop & I swear I could smell the pastries! Smh. Then there was her son Jaxon, who befriends Sam upon his mother’s request but quickly ends up falling for her. This is only made more innnnneresting by the introduction of a certain paranormal character. This character, I won’t say what he is…was my absolute FAVORITE character in the entire book.
Ok, so far I’ve only had good things to say about this book…why the 3-star rating? Some of you may ask. I cannot discuss the reason in too much detail for fear I may spoil the ending but simply put, Sam’s beginning felt very much like her ending—lonely & incomplete, even as the author is telling us otherwise…