For my “subway book” this week, I’m rereading The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare. Sometimes, I can’t believe it was written in 1958 and how well it stands the test of time. It’s definitely one of my comfort reads, a book I run to like its lead character, Kit Tyler, runs to the meadow and Quaker Hannah Tupper. I almost forgot to get off at Grand Central, I was so engrossed… even though I’ve read it so many times that I’ve lost count. It never seems to lose its impact; I empathize with Kit feeling boxed in and alien and unable to express herself. I love how she doesn’t even realize her growing attraction to the captain’s son, Nat Eaton. It’s a perfect, classic romantic set-up, and such a good book about being true to yourself.
And I have to admit, another one of my longtime favorites, The Primrose Way, by Jackie French Koller, bears a strong resemblance to it. Both are about headstrong, educated young women who come to live in a Puritan settlement and find themselves learning and also rebelling. There’s an outbreak of devastating illness. The persecution of suspected witches is also addressed in both novels, and there’s secondary characters engaging in secret, repressed love, to boot. Ack, when I say it like that it almost feels like Koller ripped off her predecessor… but I don’t necessarily think she did. I think there’s a standard set of tropes for books set in that era that authors –especially Young Adult authors– tend to use.
I look at bookshelves in bookstores now, over-saturated with paranormal romance for younger readers. It’s kind of freakish, because you see this wall of black covers with flowers or fairies or artfully photographed female faces and they all blend into one another. Even YA books I like, such as Kelley Armstrong’s and Melissa Marr’s fall into this trap… and you’re hard-pressed to tell that the pages inside might actually be something unique. More often than not, they aren’t. I miss the days when kids were reading books like The Witch of Blackbird Pond or things by Ellen Raskin or Madeleine L’Engle or Lois Lowry. This is the kind of stuff that lasts forever.