Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Sacrifice

The Sacrifice by Kathleen Benner Duble.

Warning: To discuss this, I will be having spoilers.

The Plot: Abigail Faulkner is ten years old, living in Andover, Mass. The year is 1692. She's high spirited and speaks her mind, sometimes a bit too much, especially since she lives in a Puritan colony, and her grandfather Dane is also Reverend Dane. Things seem boring -- and then she and her sister, Dorothy, hear about a bunch of Salem girls who are accusing people of being witches. Witches! In Massachusetts!

It stops being exciting when the Salem girls are invited to Andover to find witches and the accusations start to fly. It starts being scary when Abigail and Dorothy are accused as witches and taken to jail. There are three options: proclaim your innocence yet be unable to prove it so hang; admit to being a witch to escape the hangman's noose yet still be in jail; or accuse another and free yourself. As history tells us, Abigail and Dorothy accuse another. Their mother.

The Good: This is a book for ages 9 and up. It's almost impossible to imagine being able to have book about this subject -- the Salem Witch trials -- for this age group. Duble succeeds for several reasons:

-- Abigail, the main character, is aged ten.

-- Ultimately, there is a happy ending: while members of her family are accused, tried, and even found guilty, no one is executed.

-- By using the events in Andover, and using such a young main character, Duble avoids having to address some issues that would be troubling to younger readers: why did the initial accusers make the accusations they did? What about all the people who were executed? Yes, this is referred to, but in such slight detail that it's not as disturbing as if it were front and center.

-- Abigail's grandfather, the Rev. Dane, speaks out against the accusations even before they are made. While at first I thought this was a case of injecting modern thoughts and beliefs into a historical character, some Google searching showed me that Rev. Dane did exactly that: doubted the girls, doubted the use of spectral evidence, and did indeed speak up. So Duble had a character who could voice modern thoughts, yet be authentic.

-- Duble stays very close to the real facts as they are known. I am highly critical of historical fiction that uses real people and events and changes them dramatically, especially when the author is not upfront about it in an author's note. As someone who hears time and time again from young readers, "is it real", I have to say -- yes, it matters. Duble's note at the end is very up front about what she did and didn't change and why.

For all that, this is not a prettified account. Abigail and Dorothy are taken to jail, and it's pretty scary. Someone they love dies. Duble makes the risks real, but does so in a way that is age appropriate.

From nonfiction reading on this subject, I had been familiar with this story and had been a little chilled at the thought of these 2 children being brainwashed by their accusers into accusing their own mother. Duble takes an approach to this that I had not considered, but it makes perfect sense. I've spoiled enough, but this ends up being a book not only about false accusations and speaking ones mind, but also about the bonds of family and the bonds between a mother and her daughters.

Strongly recommended nonfiction on this subject:

Witch-Hunt : Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials by Marc Aronson. For teen readers. Does a great job of trying to understand the 17th century POV; also has a wonderful analysis of different books about Salem.

In the Devil's Snare : The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 by Mary Beth Norton. If you're going to read only one nonfiction about Salem, this should be the book. Approaches the time period from a global and local perspective; addresses the entire time period, rather than just the initial accusations (most books barely get into the Andover period, for example); examines the legal process (for example, while children could make accusations, they couldn't testify at the trial, an adult witness was needed to do that); and documents it all. Great appendices, index, charts, maps.

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