Subtitled “A Story About the Salem Witch Trials”, Rinaldi’s novel fictionalizes the life of Susanna English, a fourteen-year-old girl living in the Puritan village of Salem in 1962. Susanna desperately wants to join the circle of girls who meet every week at the parsonage. What she doesn’t realize is that the girls are about to set off a torrent of false accusations leading to the imprisonment and execution of countless innocent people. Susanna faces a painful choice: Should she keep quiet and let the witch-hunt panic continue, or should she “break charity” with the group — and risk having her own family members named as witches?
Rinaldi’s novel was one of my favorites when I was younger than Susanna. My mom selected this one off my shelves for the long drive across three states after I ran out of printed reading material during my last week in Seattle. It was just wanted I needed for such a long drive — easy to follow storyline yet still compelling enough to keep my attention.
I really liked Rinaldi’s presentation of Salem under Puritan rule. This novel operates under the theory that the young women naming witches did so out of a need to rebel against their oppressive circumstances. By the time they realized the consequences of their actions, the need for attention was too great and their ability to retract was gone. In fact, at two points in the novel, two members of the “afflicted” circle do attempt to recant. It’s hard to imagine that no one — not even Susanna, who had insider information about the group’s goals — were willing to stand up and stop the witch craze. Yet, when silence was the only way to protect your family, an unwillingness to stand up is more understandable. Sad but understandable.
- Rinaldi, Ann. A Break with Charity: A Story About the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003. Originally published 1992. Print. 320 pgs. ISBN: 9780152046828. Source: Purchased.