I am a great lover of historical fiction, and to some extent I can credit one of my favorite authors, Ann Rinaldi, with getting me started on that path. Rinaldi has a great gift for creating strong young women narrators coming of age during some of American history's most important events. Rinaldi's extensive research always shows, and her books always leave me wanting to know more about the actual events she chronicles in her fiction. I read, or to put it more accurately, devoured, A Break With Charity some time during middle school. Despite the fact that I'm not much of a re-reader, this was one book that I definitely wanted to revisit.
A Break With Charity is Rinaldi's mostly imagined account of Susanna English, teenage daughter of parents Philip and Mary actual people who were accused in the Salem Witch Trials. Susanna is fourteen and though she deeply desires to mingle with other girls of her age group in Salem finds herself to be an outcast due to her family's relative affluence and her father's rejection of the Puritan church. Her curiosity about the other girls' activities brings her into the company of the Reverend Parris's slave, Tituba, and eventually embroils her in the hysteria of the witch trials. Though the younger Ann Putnam herself tells Susanna that the witchcraft accusations are scam at the start, she forbids Susanna to tell anyone claiming that she will call out on her parents. As Susanna struggles with how to deal with this information, the consequences of her silence grow and grow until the "afflicted" girls begin to believe their own lies and eventually break charity and accuse her parents despite Susanna's silence.
Through Susanna's eyes, Rinaldi examines the Salem Witch Trials inside and out. She reveals to us the boredom and powerlessness felt by teenage Puritan girls, both of which made the chaos caused by the witch trials and the attention paid them by high-ranking Puritans all that much more alluring. Rinaldi explores the weaknesses of Puritan society and a persistant feeling of religious righteousness and judgement, both of which allowed the hysteria of the witch trials to explode to ridiculous proportions causing immense loss of innocent life. Through Susanna's narrative, Rinaldi provides practically just enough context to whet reader's appetites for additional writings on the Salem Witch Trials and helpfully encloses a list of her references and additional reading on the subject. Rinaldi's strong grasp of history and her female narrators who are never perfect but are on their way to finding the right path make for excellent reading experiences for young adults that encourage a healthy interest in history.
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