Friday, September 23, 2011

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare

I read this at least once as a young teen or pre-teen, and after coming across a mention of it online, I had a hankering to revisit the story.  It's written for children/young adults, and I think I enjoyed it more the first time I read it, but it's held up pretty well after all those years-- not one of those things you go back to as an adult and wonder how you ever found it entertaining.  I don't think I'll be tempted to read it again, unless I forget this most recent experience, but I'd recommend it for girls (particularly) of the target age.

Spoilers follow!

Negative reactions:

•  The Cruff woman is a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out.

  Mercy is unpleasantly reminiscent of Beth March.  (Stand up for yourself, girl!)

  Uncle Matthew (that was his name, right?)... We're obviously supposed to respect (if not admire) him by the end of the novel, but frankly, he's too much of a tyrannical grump for my taste.  A truly great man commands respect without being so harsh and unrelenting.

•  Yes, this is set in a Puritan village and is a story for "children", but still... the romantic relationships are mostly poorly drawn.  I guess Kit and Nat are the best-presented couple in the bunch, but even they are a bit of a mystery.  Ok, so they're in love by the end of the book-- or possibly from the very beginning, depending on how you look at it.  But why do they love one another?  Most of the time they're together "on screen", they're annoying one another.  Which is a time-honored way for writers to show that people are In Love, but come on, give us a little more basis for a relationship than that.  It's a little weak... As for the other relationships (Mercy and John, Judith and William, William's infatuation with Kit), I guess they were cases of love at first sight... or love based on mutual obsession with fancy new houses.

•  This one is actually as case of "I Listened to This", since it was an audio book. This is aimed at children, and they may be more likely to enjoy the different voices the reader used, but I often found them distracting or even irritating.  (She made Judith sound even ickier than she deserved, Prudence was sickly sweet, so on and so forth.)  I don't have tons of experience with audio books; maybe this type of "every character gets a different voice (from the same reader)" thing is the norm.  Possibly I'm weird for not liking readers who "do all the voices"...  (It's different when you're reading to a young child, I'll admit.)

Positive reactions:

•  If nothing else, this has made me glad I don't live in Puritan New England.  ~shudder~

•  Kit matures over the course of the novel, which is nice to see...

•  There are some historically interesting tidbits scattered through the book-- without it devolving into a lecture or history textbook.

•  Speare does a good job of showing the world through Kit's eyes.  

•  Listening to this, I was surprised how much of it I remembered.  This is worth mentioning as a positive reaction because it means I can on occasion recall details from books.  ;o)  (However, some of the episodes turned out to be much shorter and less detailed than I thought I remembered.  The corn husking party, for instance...)

•  Ah, a happy, tidy ending.  One of the best things about reading "children's" or YA fiction.  Or at least from the olden times.  Modern YA might be more prone to dark or open endings... I'm not sure, honestly.

Altogether, a nice story.  A bit tame from an adult's perspective-- and occasionally very annoying, what with all the insistence on conformity and the characters who act like superstitious fools-- but interesting, all the same.