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Heretic's Daughter (Kent)

The Heretic's Daughter
Kathleen Kent, 2008
Little, Brown & Co.
332 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316024495


Summary
Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft.

This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendent of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family's deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Kathleen Kent is a tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier. She lives in Dallas with her husband and son. The Heretic's Daughter is her first novel. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews 
A powerful coming-of-age tale in which tragedy is trumped by an unsinkable faith in human nature…Like The Crucible, The Heretic’s Daughter uses the Salem witch hunt to explore larger themes…but at its core, it’s a story about a family.
New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)


A family’s conflict becomes a battle for life or death in this gripping and original first novel.... Sarah’s front row view of the trials and the mayhem that sweeps the close-knit community provides a fresh, bracing and unconvential take on a much covered episode.
San Fransisco Examiner


Kathleen Kent takes a new approach to an old topic, the 17th-century Salem, Mass., witch trials, in her engrossing debut novel, The Heretic's Daughter…. Ms. Kent movingly sketches the lives of this extended family as they get drawn into the maelstrom of unfounded suspicion and religious insanity, which eventually put more than 150 people behind bars as accused witches, including many children, Sarah and her siblings among them….Ms. Kent brings a gentle decency to her portrait of this nasty episode in American life.
Dallas Morning News


The most shocking aspect of the 17th-century Salem witch trials was that anyone with a grudge could accuse a neighbor of being in league with the devil... It is the fundamental outrageousness of these tragic events that Kathleen Kent portrays to great effect in her debut novel, The Heretic's Daughter.... Kent tells a heart-wrenching story of family love and sacrifice. Its warnings about the dire consequences of intolerance and fundamentalism still have meaning in the modern world.
USA Today


The panic and horror of the Salem witch trials in Kent's novel is conveyed with dead-eyed calm and an occasional tremor of emotion by Mare Winningham, whose tempered, dispassionate voice is not given to great displays of drama. Her melodiousness is pleasing to the ear, and Kent's novel becomes a sort of long-form song possessed of many verses and no chorus. At times, the melody overwhelms the meaning, but Winningham is more than capable as a reader, and her reading of Kent's sad tale of women accused and accusing emits a hint of deeply buried, untouchable tragedy.
Publishers Weekly


Kent, a descendant of Martha Carrier (one of the first women convicted of witchcraft in 1690s Salem, MA), has created an engrossing historical debut novel based on her ancestors' experiences. Told from the point of view of Sarah, Martha's daughter, it is filled with vivid characters and detail-rich anecdotes of everyday life in Puritan New England. Emmy® Award-winning actress Mare Winningham's clear, believable reading flows well, even through those few times when the prose gets a bit bogged down (particularly when Martha is imprisoned).
Library Journal


Told from the point of view of young Sarah, the daughter of one of the first women to be accused, tried, and hanged as a witch in Salem, this novel paints a vivid and disturbing picture of Puritan New England life. Based on fact and the author's family history, the story portrays Martha, Sarah's mother, as a strong-willed nonconformist who knows she is a target of the zealots who pit family members against one another with their false accusations. All but one of the siblings end up imprisoned with their mother, and much of the story is told from the inhumane and corruptly run jail. When Martha is finally executed, her husband "would stand for all of us so that when she closed her eyes for the last time, there would be a counterweight of love against the overflowing presence of vengeance and fear." History is brought to life as readers learn of the strength of Martha's convictions and the value she places on her conscience. They will also appreciate the themes of family love, repression, intolerance, and persecution in this beautifully written and compelling first novel. —Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA
School Library Journal


A first-time novelist recreates her family's involvement in the Salem witch trials. On August 19, 1692, Martha Carrier was hanged. She was one of the first women convicted of witchcraft amidst the hysteria that started in Salem and spread throughout Massachusetts. Kent is a tenth-generation descendent of Carrier, and, in this novel, she looks at this troubled time through the eyes of Martha's daughter. As Sarah Carrier tells her story, she creates a vivid portrait of the harsh, hard-headed woman who was her mother. When the story begins, Sarah begrudges her mother's stubbornness and severity. She knows that the neighbors resent Martha's sharp tongue, and Martha's unyielding attitude toward her sister's husband means that Sarah is separated from her beloved cousin. When petty village feuds turn into whispered rumors about Martha's dealings with the devil, Martha remains steadfast in her protestations of innocence, and Sarah learns that her mother's willfulness is the product of integrity, courage and fierce individuality. Sarah learns, in fact, that the very qualities that condemned her mother redeemed her as well. The story Kent tells—of a powerful woman punished by a society that fears and hates women—is not a new one. It's not a bad one, either, but this particular iteration is not one of the most compelling. One problem is that Sarah is one of the less remarkable characters in the novel. Both her parents are substantially more intriguing and would have made for dynamic central characters. In fact, Kent seems to have a general problem with distinguishing between the interesting and the uninteresting. The pace of her narrative slows to a crawl, offering lyrical, metaphor-laden, mostly unilluminating descriptions of the natural world. And her practice of breaking the novel into little sections that inevitably end on a portentous note give the story a leaden, numbing rhythm. Serviceable, if unexciting, historical fiction with a feminist perspective.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1.  How was Sarah changed by living with her cousin Margaret?  How was she changed by returning to her family?
 
2.  What was it about Martha's character that seemed to antagonize so many neighbors?
 
3.  What do you think was the most compelling reason that Martha was eventually brought to trial?
 
4.  Discuss the various factors that lead to the witch hysteria.
 
5.  Why did Martha choose to take a stand of innocence knowing that a refused confession meant death?
 
6.  Why did Thomas, despite his size and capabilities, not seek to persuade or deter Martha from her course of action?
 
7.  Why did the community of Salem, and the magistrates, so easily believe in and rely on "spectral evidence”?
 
8.  How has reading the book changed your opinions about the men and women hanged as witches?
 
9.  Are there modern day "witches”?
 
10.  Can we, or should we, redefine the meaning of the word "witch"?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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