Available: Used hardcover, Kindle edition
I Walk in Dread is part of the Dear America series, which consists of fictional first-person narratives in diary format by girls between ages 9-14, in a variety of historical time periods. This particular book is the diary of Deliverance Trembley, an orphaned 12 year old girl living in Salem, Massachusetts in 1691, at the time of the Salem Witch Trials. Deliverance and her sickly older sister, Mem, are hiding a secret– their uncle, who is also their guardian, has left them on their own, with instructions to tell no one that he is gone. While Deliverance is definitely a girl of her time, she also, unlike most others, can read and write, both of which are considered tools of the Devil. Her dreams are disturbing, and her interactions with actual historical figures are varied. For instance, she worries that Sarah Goode, who she knows only by reputation, is a witch who has cursed her chickens, but still lets her and her daughter into the house during a cold night. She’s acquainted with many of the major players, but not intimate with them, with the exception of Martha Corey– an observer who is unsure what to think, and afraid of being found out.
Martha Corey is portrayed as an intelligent, kind, and God-fearing woman who keeps her own counsel. She is observant enough to notice that Deliverance and Mem are alone, and asks Deliverance to read aloud to her, allowing Deliverance to earn enough to feed herself and her sister. Martha’s wise conversation and good character are evident to Deliverance, and when Martha is accused, Deliverance becomes certain that the accusations of the afflicted girls are unjustified. Her behavior as the examinations progress even causes her sister to believe that Deliverance is a witch. It is a compelling story, as minor details like the ability to read and write, a fight with her sister that ends with a Bible sliding into the fire, strange dreams, and a refusal to attend the examinations all together take on an ominous cast as the story continues and the hysteria builds.
While some aspects of the story are implausible (it’s difficult to believe that in over three months, no one actually figured out that the girls were living at home without supervision), the author worked hard to develop a historically accurate representation of the time, place, and events of the witch trials, and I think she succeeded. The back matter includes a historical note, reproductions of primary source documents, an author’s note, and acknowledgments, all to create a more complete picture and provide historical background for young readers this is true for all books in the Dear America series). Fraustino does a good job of humanizing the accused, with her detailed character development of Martha Corey, and of expressing the confusion and conflicted feelings a young girl living in Salem but outside the main events of the story could be feeling about her peers, authority figures, and members of the community. For children, especially girls, who are not quite ready for a more graphic discussion, but are interested in the Salem Witch Trials, this is a good starting place. Adults who like a compelling story may like it, too. Appropriate for grades 4 and up.
Reader’s advisory note: Historical fiction readers looking for more might like The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. A possible nonfiction follow-up for those interested in more detail is Witches! The Absolutely True Story of the Disaster in Salem. by Rosalyn Schanzer.
Or, for a list of books for varying ages (with varying levels of appropriateness) related to the Salem Witch Trials, check out this book list.