Annotation: After her mother’s death, sixteen-year-old Cate Cahill must protect herself and her two sisters from the prying eyes of the Brotherhood, the organization that reigns over the country of New England and would throw them in jail or worse if they found out the truth: the Cahill sisters are witches.
Personal thoughts: This was one of those novels that really made me think. I was trying to figure out the whole time whether it was something along the lines of the movie The Village, where all the townspeople think they’re living in the 19th century but it’s actually the present-day. This was very intriguing to me and almost outplayed the rest of the story. Cate’s struggle to find out the truth about her mother and the Cahill sisters’ powers as witches is interesting, but in picking up the sequel I will be wondering primarily about the nature of the world they live in. I would easily recommend this book to readers who want something dystopian but with a twist. Definitely one to look out for!
Plot summary: Sixteen-year-old Cate Cahill lives in the town of Chatham in the country of New England. Ruled over by the Brotherhood, society in New England is very rigid, women growing up with the expectation that their highest aspiration in life is to be obedient to their husbands and raise healthy children. Cate and her two younger sisters, Maura and Tess, are still struggling to cope with the death of their mother three years earlier. Not only did the loss of their mother leave them without someone to guide them into entering society as proper women, but it meant that no one could instruct them into hiding their most dangerous secret: all three Cahill sisters are witches. The Brotherhood regularly arrests young girls upon suspicion of witchcraft, sending them to asylums, work ships, or worse. Cate wants nothing more than to keep herself and her sisters safe from the prying eyes of the Brotherhood. After a mysterious letter arrives at the Cahill house, however, one that warns of imminent danger to the Cahill sisters, Cate is determined to find out the truth about her mother and their family secret.
Review: Set in an alternate version of history where North America is divided between Indo-China in the west, Mexico in the south and New England in the east, this debut novel from author Jessica Spotswood marks to beginning of a new series for young adults that combines both fantasy and dystopia seamlessly. It’s unclear what exactly the circumstances are that have lead to the Brotherhood reigning in an iron-fisted theocracy over the “country” of New England. The reader is left wondering if the novel really takes place in the 19th century as it claims, or is actually in the distant future following some terrible post-apocalyptic event. This makes for a very intriguing thread that runs throughout the story: what exactly is the truth? As Cate, both independent and strong-willed, struggles to learn more about her past and what danger the future might hold, the reader begins to discover more about the world Cate is living in. The theme of the Brotherhood fixating on punishing girls, witches or those who display attraction to the same sex in particular, permeates the novel as well, making for some interesting points to think about while reading. Overall, a multi-faceted and thought-provoking start to what appears to be a creative and original series for teens. The second novel, Star Cursed, is set to be released on June 18, 2013.
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Article 5 by Kristen Simmons, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Eve by Anna Carey and What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins.
Themes: Witches, witchcraft, sisters, dystopian, duty, secrets, loyalty, romance.
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from Booklist.
Series Information: First novel in The Cahill Witch Chronicles. Second novel, Star Cursed, set to be released June 18, 2013.
Discussion questions:- Do you think Cate took her duty to protect her sisters too seriously? Why or why not?
- Why do you think the Brotherhood arrested girls for witchcraft, even if they weren’t witches? Does this compare to historical periods you may have learned about (i.e the Salem Witch Trials, etc.)?
- Why do you think Cate was so reluctant to use her magic and her sisters were more eager to?
- Do you think Cate loves both Finn and Paul? Why or why not?
- Do you think Elena was manipulating Maura?
- Do you think Cate made the right choice in the end of the novel? What do you think will happen to her in the sequel?