|Original Hardcover cover|
I've held on to my copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond since I was about 11 years old and have re-read it many, many times. In a time when the word “witch” brings up images of Harry Potter-type stories, it might be helpful to clarify - this book is historical fiction, NOT fantasy. :) “Witch” refers to the Puritan colonist ideas of what a witch was in the 1600's. Generally, anyone who was a little different, especially a different religion, might be accused of being a witch in league with Satan. For this review I decided to listen to this old favourite in the audiobook version for the first time, to compare it to the experience of reading it myself.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond starts with a 16 year old, free-spirited girl named Kit, traveling on a ship from Barbados to Wethersfield, Connecticut - a Puritan colony up the Connecticut River, in 1687. Kit was raised by her wealthy grandfather in Barbados in a completely different lifestyle from the Puritans. But after his death, she is now on her way to live with relatives who she has never met before. Kit struggles to fit into her new life and to understand the Puritans, but, while her relatives try to be welcoming, they make little effort to understand her in return. It is quite the culture shock for her to go from having wealth, status and slaves to being poor and an outsider having to learn daily household chores.
Kit does her best to become friends with her cousins, Mercy and Judith, while they are all getting to know each other and are developing romances with the very few eligible young men around. But eventually, she rebels against the intolerance of the community and finds comfort by becoming friends with the lonely, old Quaker women who lives at Blackbird Pond.
The book ends with an old-fashioned Puritan witch hunt and Kit finds out who will really stand up for her and for justice when it counts.
While I've always thoroughly enjoyed it when I read this book, I found the audiobook, narrated by Mary Beth Hurt, lacking something. As it started, I was initially disappointed with some music competing with the narrator's voice, but that soon ended and only recurs briefly again at the end. But it is completely unnecessary and detracts from the reading. Then, my second disappointment was that the narrator's voice did not suit what I had in my mind for Kit's voice. I was afraid that it would ruin the whole book for me, but it eventually grew on me enough to go unnoticed most of the time. Mary Beth was good at doing both a young girl's voice and an older woman's voice - it was the main character's teenage voice that didn't seem right to me.
And a little side-note - there were a few scattered technical glitches, of voice skips. I don't know if that was just my download, or if it would be in other library audio versions too.
I've very seldom thought a narrator had the “wrong” voice before. A few have just been bad in all respects, but the good ones, are usually good all around too. So this problem was a new experience with audiobooks for me. I've also both read and listened to the same books before, but I'm not sure if I've done it in this order since at the moment I can only recall buying a book after enjoying the audio version. So perhaps it is just harder for an audiobook to live up to my own imagination. I hope to find more library audiobooks to compare to other printed favourites to better determine this.
This book will appeal to readers who enjoy juvenile historical fiction books with feisty, young heroines. It is recommended for ages 8 -10 and up, although the younger readers may have a little difficulty following the politics of the time. But anyone may enjoy looking up the real historical figures and places, such as Wethersfield and the Buttolph-Williams House.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Young Adult Historical Fiction
Narrator: Mary Beth Hurt
Duration: 6 hours, 33 minutes
Release date: Oct 31, 2006
Publisher: Houghton Miffline Company (December 1, 1958)
Awards: Newbery Medal in 1959