How to Hang a Witch (How to Hang a Witch #1)
By: Adriana Mather
Publisher: Knopf/Random House
Publication Date: July 26th, 2016
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.
What do you get when you mix high school mean girls, a curse, and a community that is somewhat over zealously attached to its history in a cauldron and boil it? How to Hang a Witch. Adriana’s debut is just as attention grabbing as it sounds by providing a spin on the typical YA student outcast with the addition of a curse and a lurking unknown enemy that has been hanging around since the Salem Witch Trials.
Because if there was something I didn’t know I wanted, it was a supernatural YA about Salem and its very interesting history.
How to Hang a Witch follows Sam Mather, a descendent of a major instigator of the Salem Witch Trials and her move back to Salem, where people are still holding a grudge for her ancestor’s actions. Not only is she targeted by witchy descendants of Trial victims, but a ghost has decided she is not at all welcome in her grandmother’s home. The book at once observes the politics of high school while tying in the paranormal and uniquely Salem aspects believably. The Descendents, yes that is with a capital D, manage to flip the script of the original witch trials. Sam is doggedly attacked for who she is, through no initial missteps of her own, and the ensuing problems of no one speaking up or defending the persecuted that mirror the original Salem Trials are effectively explored by Adriana. The paranormal aspect felt familiar, there was no new twist on witchcraft or ghosts, but it didn’t hurt the plot or world building. It fit in with the backtracking through the past that the characters did, and organically meshed with the plot.
Even the love triangle, if you could call it that since the L-word was hardly thrown around, felt organic. Sam would naturally be drawn to the first boy who was nice to her and looked past her social value as an outcast, laughingstock, and general standing as a bad omen. Who stood by her in school and befriended her and shyly asked for something more. It is also valid that she would fall for the ghost that is assisting her. Who gives her whispered support when facing off with her attackers and even helps her fight back against them. And both of these boys have faced loss as Sam has, and I could see both of them fitting naturally with her.
As for the ending and the ultimate villain, however, I felt underwhelmed. From the point that an enemy that wasn’t obvious was discussed, I had an inkling who it was. The failing was in how the villain’s actions, those known from the beginning and then those discovered at the end, were effectively menacing but the consequences fell short. I felt that the villain got an easy out for what they had accomplished, and was forgiven all too easily.
Despite my thoughts on the ending, How to Hang a Witch was a highly entertaining read with no bumps or obvious loopholes in its construction. The book can function as a standalone, and I love it for that and I read it as one, but from the looks of Goodreads, it is a start to a new series. And I can’t say that I’m not happy about that.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us. An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.