This classic young adult novel by Elizabeth George Speare was one of my favorites growing up. Upon finding it at a great price, I got it, and reread it. Since I'm no longer technically in the YA category, this book took on a whole new light that I didn't fully appreciate as a child.
Kit Tyler, the grand daughter of a wealthy Englishman, leaves her home in Barbados after his passing to live with her last living relatives in Connecticut. The year to date is April 1687, and life in Puritan New England is quite unlike the life Kit has been used to living. With her life turned upside down, Kit does the best to make herself a part of the Wood family. Despite her best efforts, Kit just doesn't manage to fit in. Her cousin, Mercy is a kind and patient teacher. Her cousin Judith is vivacious, beautiful, and easily jealous. Both are excellent with the house and yard work. Kit is not devout enough for her Uncle Matthew with his short temper and dislike of change. She's not as obedient as her Aunt Rachel would prefer. She even is a disappointment to William and John, two men in town who both seem interested romantically in her.
Her frustrations wane when she meets Hannah Tupper, an old woman the town calls a witch. Kit gets to know Hannah and finds in her a mentor with whom she loves to spend time. The "witch" even helps Kit resolve anger with others, even if Hannah does not personally agree with them on all fronts. Her purpose is served as a guide and counselor, whereby she is the proverbial Yoda to a Jedi of sorts. In return, Kit helps the old woman when she needs it the most.
An important aspect of the book to note is basic background history. As of the 1600's, Columbus had discovered America, but the Declaration of Independence had yet to be signed for almost another hundred years. The country was in constant anxiety over whether the King would revoke his freedom to America. Many places in the United States had slaves, although it wasn't in abundance until the 1800's. The Salem Witch Trials were about to happen in 1692, but were yet to transpire.
Motifs: "If they only understood"
It is frequently stressed that people misjudge others without knowing them or trying to understand things from their point of view. This not only happens to Kit when she feels that others disapprove of her (she can swim, wears glamorous clothing, and is rebellious), but it even happens to her in terms of the way she views the townspeople--especially her Uncle Matthew. As Kit is brought to light on why her family has the traditions they do, why the Puritans seek independence from England, and why her uncle is seemingly cold and unforgiving, Kit's understanding and respect for those around her grows. This is not to say that Kit changes her mind about everything, but she is brought to a better understanding of the way things are.
|I can't help it. Uncle Matthew always looks like this to me. Maybe because he built the wood house they live in with his own bare hands.|
Religion is also a frequent topic of the book. There is much bickering and prejudice between various religions and loyalty (at one point so heavily so that one of the characters becomes very ill and is not brought a doctor due to the doctor's allegiance). There is also the question of whether religion requires the use of politics and whether one should completely follow the works and ideology of his/her predecessors (in the most common instance, the pastor and doctor in training) or if they should combine both what is known with what one believes to be right future path for oneself.
The author stresses that holding beliefs too tightly can become problematic in relating to other individuals or groups so much so that it causes bigotry, isolation, and wild accusations/stereotypes. The other extreme where one is so loose in one's beliefs and so willing to accept what one is fed can lead to frustration, confusion, and unhappiness. Neither extremes are good.
From my observation, the book does not take a stance on what particular religion, if any, is preferable. What the author does do is show that religion has two sides: dark and light. Kit learns from all the people in her life what religion can mean in terms of love, values, and regimen. At the end of the book, Kit sets aside one of her dresses that she would like to give to her cousin. She tried to do it at the beginning of the novel as well, but this time, she thinks, "he would know now that she offered the gifts with love instead of pride" (p. 217).
Throughout the book, Kit is constantly grappling to fit into the puzzle of home and comfort. Even when her place in the household becomes more secure and serene, she longs for what she once had and what she views as her future. For one, Kit never gets over the weather, the lack of color from birds and flowers, and a feeling of content. There are a few people and places that Kit feels truly at ease, and by the end of the book, she finally realizes where she truly belongs.
I don't tend to enjoy fictional novels based on historical facts. Fortunately, this is a loosely enough based story that the background does not interfere or impede upon the story or history itself. I adore this book. It has a lot of philosophy, romance, and fun to it. You can definitely tell that the main character, Kit, is a teenager, but there's rarely a character in the book that is not in his or her own way interesting. The way the characters stick together and save each other is beyond amazing. I recommend this to anyone ready for a light read with a lot of sentimentality (it's a quick read, and the characters form in one's heart easily).