How to Hang a Witch follows Sam who recently moved to Salem with her step-mother, Vivian, after he dad falls into a coma and is moved to a hospital in Boston. Sam has grown up in NYC, but the financial burden of her dad’s medical bills causes them to move to her deceased grandmother’s home in Salem. Sam hopes that this move will be a fresh start. She has always had particularly bad luck, especially with people. People always seem to get hurt around her. When she moves to Salem, she is immediately targeted by a group that calls themselves The Descendants. They are the original descendants of the group of “witches” from the Salem Witch Trials. Sam is also a direct descendant of Cotton Mathers, one of the men who spearheaded the trials. The Descendants immediately want Sam gone, not only because of her last name, but also because of the tragic events that start occurring as soon as she moves to town. With her dad in the hospital and Vivian self medicating with wine, Sam feels more alone than ever. Luckily she has Jaxon, the handsome neighbor boy, and his mom, Mrs. Meriweather, on her side. She soon finds out that she also has an unlikely ally in an angsty spirit named Elijah.. But as the story progresses and things go from bad to worse, Sam doesn’t know who is friend or enemy. She has to rely on herself more than ever to uncover things that have been right in front of her face the whole time.
There are a few plot holes, but the story itself is fun to read. Sometimes things just…. conveniently happen, but I was still able to just roll with it and take the plot for what it is. For example, the Descendants talk about how they have been friends since they were children, so were their parents and grandparents. They’re all tied together by being a descendant. No one in all those generations didn’t want to be involved? They just went with the whole wearing black and witchcraft thing? A little unbelievable, but again, I just rolled with it. Also, it is never really revealed where John and Lizzie fit into the descendant part. We find out more about Mary, Alice, and Susannah, but I was left with a big question mark about John especially. He just seemed to be in the story for convenience.
I don’t know much about the history that is brought up in the story, so I can’t really comment on the historical accuracy. Even if it isn’t accurate, it is what it is when it comes to fiction. I love historical YA fiction, so it doesn’t bother me when the author takes the bones of a story and makes it their own. I really like that the author is personally connected to this story. She writes a good bit about her ties in the Author’s Note at the end of the book.
I think younger YA or even MG would enjoy this story since the main character is fifteen. There is a little bit of profanity, but certainly nothing that I didn’t know when I was that age. I do think it is a little odd that the “love triangle” (if you can really call it that) is between the MC and a 17 year old and a 19 year old. Personally, I don’t have anything against it, but I can see where it would make some parents uncomfortable. The Descendants thing just felt like a group of your normal high school mean girls at first (until you learn the real story), so I think teens can definitely identify with that.
I wish there was more development between the characters in the book. Sam spends most of her time with Elijah, but it feels like there is some missed opportunities in not diving in deeper with Jaxon or Susannah, for example. Even with Elijah, we really only find out what he tells us about himself and Abigail. On Goodreads, this book is labeled How to Hang a Witch #1, so hopefully in the rest of the series we will get the relationships that this one lacked.
I also wish Sam’s dad was more in the story before he got sick. When hear a lot about him through Sam, but I think I would’ve felt closer to him and cared more about what happens to his character if I could have learned more about him.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I love historical YA, ghosts, and witches, so it was just a complete recipe for success for me. If you are a fan of Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood, then I think you will also enjoy this book. I picked up the book on a whim after getting it at BEA, and I’m glad that I did.