Book Review: Conversion by Katherine Howe

Posted 01/08/2015 by alicemarvels in Contemporary
Conversion by Katherine Howe

Conversion is a harrowing look at the unique set of pressures young girls face, now and in the past. How they can become so consumed by the cloistered world around them that they respond in unusual ways to stressors. When they aren’t being heard, when they feel helpless, a strange brand of hysteria is possible.

In Colleen’s school, this hysteria manifests itself in the form of an inexplicable illness which befalls many girls, causing them to stutter, lose their hair, and have strange tics. The most popular, successful girls in the school are the first to become afflicted, then an astonishing domino effect occurs, and soon media crews are crowded around the posh private school like it’s the red carpet.

The idea behind Conversion is definitely interesting, and alternating between the mysterious present day illness and the Salem witch hysteria was a bold creative choice. Unfortunately this alterntaing wasn’t seamlessly done, and the pacing suffered greatly as a result. The story would have been tidier and more efficient with fewer flashbacks. However, the ability of both sets of girls to derive power from their group suffering, real or imagined, is hard to ignore.

I found Colleen, the main character, difficult to relate to at times. She came off as selfish and self-involved, and while I understand she is a product of this stressful prep school environment that produces the sort of hysteria the girls are experiencing, I do feel she could have been more relatable.

There is a nice ambiguity at the end, and we are left wondering whether the illness was real, perhaps the result of some other madness or mania. The author almost has us convinced of the magic behind this madness that so charmed the Salem religious elite.

Overall, Conversion is too interesting to avoid simply because of character issues and pacing. I recommend reading it if you like reading about girls in difficult situations.

Read an excerpt here.
Watch the trailer:



    This does sound really good, even with the flaws you mentioned. Great review Lauren!


    Ah yes, the ever present challenges that just seem to get harder and girls facing so much more, and earlier than I remember


    The premise is really interesting, but i’m sorry you didn’t feel the flashbacks were cohesive enough with the present story.


    I’ve been curious about this one and never really understood what it was about. I’m not sure if I’ll read this one, but it’s possible I’ll consider it in the future.


    I do like the sound of the premise, but I am concerned that MC falls into the mean girl category, and I struggle with characters like that. I also am not a fan of the ambigious ending. I need to know.


    I’ve always been curious about this book. But it sounds like the plot is complicated. Maybe not for easy reading?


    Not sure about that main character…


    I read this — along with another very similar book, The Fever by Megan Abbott, and I meant to write a joint review, but … I don’t think I ever did it. #bloggeramnesia
    Thanks so much for stopping by! Jen @ YA Romantics


    Ooh, I really DO love that premise! Sounds SO interesting. Too bad the execution was lacking a bit…


    I am intrigued by the setting and subject matter, but I am hearing mixed reviews which makes me more likely to push it down the pile.

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