Book Reviews: Conversion, The Cresswell Plot, and Mosquitoland

Conversion,The Cresswell Plot, & Mosquitoland

Summertime before starting graduate school means reading, reading, reading! Since I am going to be specializing in young adult literature in my program, I like to think of it more as preparation. In the past couple of weeks, I have finished three awesome young adult books! Don’t worry- no major spoilers here beyond what you can get from the book summaries. ūüôā

 

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Conversion by Katherine Howe

“When a girl’s on a pedestal, there’s nothing some people would like better than to shove her off it, just to know what kind of noise she’d make when she shattered.”

Fans of The Crucible, unite! The Crucible is one of my favorite plays. I taught it during my student teaching by integrating it with the film Mean Girls (lots of good connections there, teaching folks), and I have always been interested in helping get students engaged with the classics by pairing them with modern stories. This book would be perfect to supplement a Crucible curriculum (or just for some good reading). I actually found out about this book because I had a $10 credit to use at a local bookstore in Memphis. For once in my life, I struggled with choosing something. I saw someone carrying this book, was intrigued, and decided to grab it!

Conversion follows two main characters: Ann Putnam of Salem, Massachusetts in 1706 and Colleen Rowley of Danvers, Massachusetts in 2012. While Ann struggles with choices she made in her youth, ¬†Colleen attends a prestigious all-girls Catholic high school.¬†In the winter months of her last semester, something strange starts happening to her classmates- a mysterious illness that affects each of its victims differently. When the mysterious illness starts to directly impact Colleen’s friend group, and her day-to-day life at school, her and those around her struggle to identify what is happening to the girls at St. Joan’s. When Colleen is assigned to read¬†The Crucible¬†for extra credit by her long-term history sub, she starts to make connections that no one else has. Are the girls faking it? Or is there something sinister at large?

My rating: 4/5 stars.¬†Conversion¬†has a lot of negative reviews on Goodreads, but I sincerely enjoyed this novel. It kept me in suspense, and I enjoyed all of the connections to the Salem Witch Trials, including its historical accuracy. There were some unbelievable moments; e.g., it was hard for me to believe that it took as long as it did for Colleen to connect what was happening to the events of¬†The Crucible¬†given her academic skill. However, I thought it was a fun read, and I learned more about what actually happened during the Salem Witch Trials (at least according to historical records and people’s accounts) and about what happened in Le Roy, New York, which inspired Colleen’s part of the story. I thought that the way the media handled the story and the aspects of corruption were telling of society. I would recommend this book to fans of suspense, the supernatural,¬†The Crucible/The Salem Witch Trials, and young adult literature.

29432934._UY200_The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass

I thought about the word sometimes. Mainly when I was worried that other people were thinking it. Because I didn’t feel abused. Only I didn’t know. I didn’t know what abuse felt like because I didn’t know¬†whether I was experiencing it or not. And anyway, wasn’t it just something someone told you? Wasn’t it just another thing you believed? And if I believed that everything was okay and if Mortimer believed it was an accident, then wasn’t that what it was?”¬†

Published last month, I learned about this book from a recommended reading list posted on Buzzfeed. I was intrigued by its description and decided to buy it when I saw it at the local bookstore. This book features some dark content, as predicted by the twisted doll in the leaves on the cover.

The Cresswell Plot¬†is narrated by Castella, or Castley, Cresswell– one of six siblings who lives with their abusive father and disabled mother in the woods of New York. Their family is deeply religious, however,¬†the specific religion they follow isn’t quite clear as they receive their messages from God through their father. Although the children attend school, they are very isolated from the rest of the world. As the children begin to mature, they start to question and challenge their family’s beliefs. While Castley befriends her new drama partner, her father reveals¬†God’s plan for the Cresswells. A deep fear is instilled in Castley: will her family be saved? And who, exactly, will be doing the saving?

My rating: 3/5 stars.¬†I thought this book was engaging; however, even though it had a lot of dark content I didn’t really feel the internal discomfort that I feel when reading books with similar themes. There was something lacking here. I think that it was hard to believe that¬†no one realized the children were being abused or needed help, especially considering that they attended school and had been previously investigated. However, given my own experiences as a teacher and with society in general, maybe it isn’t so hard to believe after all. My favorite part of this book was how empowered Castley is. The cover description sets the book up to be a typical story where an outside boy saves her and her family, but that does not end up being the case. The description almost turned me away from the book, so I am glad I still gave it a shot. Hooray for strong female characters! Overall, I did enjoy the book even if I don’t think I will ever re-read it. I would recommend The Cresswell Plot¬†to readers who like darker young adult books.

18718848Mosquitoland by David Arnold 

“Every great character, Iz, be it on page or screen, is multidimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldn’t exist at all. Remember this when I describe the antics that follow, for though I am not a villain, I am not immune to villainy.”

I am pretty sure that John Green recommended this book somewhere (maybe in a YouTube video?), but I don’t remember where I saw it. If John Green didn’t recommend this book… he should. Although the Elliott Smith references are enough to warrant this, many aspects of the book have earned it a spot as one of my favorites, and I am sure that I am going to be referencing it often with my future graduate school studies.

Mosquitoland¬†follows teenager Mary “Mim” Malone, who has self-declared that she is not okay. Her parents have recently split up, and Mim has moved to Mississippi to live with her dad and stepmother, a woman Mim greatly dislikes. One day, when Mim is called to the principal’s office during class, she overhears her father and stepmother discussing Mim’s mom and her illness– something that Mim was previously unaware of. Mim has already been concerned about her mom– she hasn’t written to Mim in three weeks and Mim can’t contact her by phone– so she promptly leaves school and heads on a journey to find her mom up north to Ohio. Along the way Mim meets a number of interesting characters, and, most importantly, begins to confront herself.

My rating: 5/5 stars.¬†I looooved this book! It is extremely well-written, the main character is likable but nowhere near perfect, she experiences a lot of personal growth, it keeps the reader engaged, it deals with important issues like mental health and sexual harassment, it is funny and surprising… overall, a great read. ¬†People who think that young adult literature is immature or unworthy should read this book as it sets a high standard. I learned a lot from this book, particularly about the importance of not making assumptions and having an open mind/heart to others as well as myself. I would recommend this book to fans of a good story!

2 thoughts on “Book Reviews: Conversion, The Cresswell Plot, and Mosquitoland

  1. Thanks for posting, Alyssa. At the school I’m at now, we have moved to the reader-writer workshop model and I am always on the lookout for new young adult books to recommend. Since there are SO many, it is hard to keep up with reading and knowing about all the great books out there, so I will keep an eye on your blog posts. Please continue to share any great books you come across. Best of luck in grad school. I’m sure you will love it! ūüôā

    1. Trust me… I have a lot of recommendations! One great strategy to use is a book pass. Once you have collected at least as many books as students in the class, you have them sit in a circle, each starting with a book. It’s good to have a handout to go along with this where they write the title, author, and if they are interested in the book or not. Allow them to spend about 1 minute with each book, passing it to their right when the time is up. At the end they will hopefully have a list of books that they are interested in! It’s a good way to help them choose an independent reading book. ūüôā

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