Summary and book reviews of The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

The Heretic's Daughter

A Novel

By Kathleen Kent

The Heretic's Daughter
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2008,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2009,
    368 pages.

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Book 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 descendant 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.

Listen to an excerpt


Chapter One

Massachusetts, December 1690

THE DISTANCE BY wagon from Billerica to neighboring Andover is but nine miles. For myself it was more than a journey away from the only home I had ever known. It was the ending of a passage from the dark fog of infancy to the sharp remembrances of childhood. I was nine years of age on that December day and my entire family was going back to live with my grandmother in the house where my mother was born. We were six in all, cramped together in an open wagon, carry ing within my mother and father, two of my older brothers, myself, and Hannah, who was but a baby. We had with us all of our house hold possessions. And we were bringing, unbeknownst to any of us, the smallpox.

A plague of it had swept across the settlements of Middlesex County, and with our crossing east over Blanchard's Plain, contagion and death followed with us. A close neighbor, John Dunkin of Billerica, had died within the space of one week, leaving ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The events of 1692 are well-trod ground even for those who slept through history class. Grisly, sensational, and safely far away in time, the Salem witch trials are easily one of the most popular topics for school reports. Like many events sketched repeatedly in thumbnail fashion, the witch trials have become a caricature, a short-hand reference for fanaticism and the darker passages of America's colonial history. So it speaks to the strength of Kathleen Kent's writing that each page of The Heretic's Daughter erased more and more of the schoolbook history I thought I knew. I could not put this book down, and finished it all in one long, nerve-wracking, soul-wrenching gulp even though I knew what happened before I even cracked the cover.   (Reviewed by Lucia Silva).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Serviceable, if unexciting, historical fiction with a feminist perspective.

Library Journal

Amidst the painful details of jail and persecution, deep-seated suspicion and familial betrayal, it is this powerful act of love that crowns the book. Highly recommended.

School Library Journal

History is brought to life...[readers] will also appreciate the themes of family love, repression, intolerance, and persecution in this beautifully written and compelling first novel.

Booklist

Starred Review. An illuminating literary debut.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] fresh, bracing and unconventional take on a much-covered episode.

New York Times - Chelsea Cain

A powerful coming-of-age tale in which tragedy is trumped by an unsinkable faith in human nature.

Reader Reviews
Lisa

Great Read
I loved this book and passed it along to my daughter. The book is beautifully written and not only leaves you with a profound understanding/reminder of family and love, it provides you with a history of our past and reminds you what fear and ...   Read More

ReaderLady

The Heretic's Daughter
Ms. Kent is a very descriptive and engaging writer. Her painstaking research is obvious. However, the book is extremely sluggish in the beginning, and even later on. She gets bogged down in too many details and the story doesn't go anywhere for a ...   Read More

Cathy M.

Enlightening book about the Salem witch trials.
Kathleen Kent's novel, from the perspective of young Sarah Carrier, was moving and informative. The Salem witch trials, and that time in history, were obviously well researched by Kent and written so that the reader can see and feel what the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Salem Witch Trials
From June through September of 1692, fourteen women and five men were hanged in Salem Village on charges of witchcraft, and Martha Carrier was among them. Nearly 150 men, women, and children were imprisoned, and an unknown number perished while they languished in crowded jails for months until the trials were brought to an end. One man was stoned to death in an effort to force him to testify. Children were brought to testify against their parents, or to admit to also being witches, and some were tortured. Many of the accused pled guilty to save themselves from death, and were imprisoned and deprived of their property rights.


How it all began
In the early ...

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