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Authors: Katherine Howe


BOOK: Conversion
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Published by the Penguin Group

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Copyright © 2014 by Katherine Howe.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

ISBN 978-0-698-15841-2



Title Page




Part 1: January

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3


Chapter 4


Chapter 5

Part 2: February

Chapter 6


Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9


Chapter 10


Chapter 11


Chapter 12

Part 3: Mid-February

Chapter 13


Chapter 14

Chapter 15


Chapter 16


Chapter 17

Chapter 18


Part 4: March

Chapter 19

Chapter 20


Chapter 21


Chapter 22

Part 5: Mid-March

Chapter 23


Chapter 24


Chapter 25


Chapter 26



Author's Note


About the Author

For my friends



MAY 30, 1706

ow long must I wait?

His tongue creeps out the corner of his mouth while he writes, the tip of it black with ink, the blacking in his gums staining his teeth. He looks like he’s got a mouthful of tar. I’ve been waiting for some time, but Reverend Green’s still writing. His quill runs across the paper, scratching like mouse paws. Scratch scratch, dip, scratch, lick, scratch.

My feet ache, and shifting my weight just makes the one hurt worse than the other. I’m leaning in the door frame, and in my mind my mother prods me in my back to make me straight. It’s so sharp, the prodding, I could almost swear she was really there.

“Ann?” he says.

I’d gotten so used to the waiting that I don’t hear him at first.

“Ann!” He’s tossed his quill down.

“Yes,” I whisper.

He turns a chill eye on me, an arm over the back of his chair. His elbow’s worn the turkey-work well away, ’til it’s so threadbare, it shines. Reverend Green’s the kind of man who’s always being interrupted. A harassed look about him, as if he can never get time to concentrate on one thing altogether. Spends his whole life turning around in his chair.

I take a step back, thinking better of my errand. He gives me a long look. He’s none too eager to hear what I’ve got to say either.

“Well, you’d best come in,” he says at length, returning to his paper.

He hunches over his desk, free hand clutching bunches of his hair like he’s anxious to finish whatever he’s writing. Scratch scratch scratch.

I should’ve gone when I had the chance; he’d never’ve known I was here. I glance over my shoulder, through the parsonage hall. Goody Green, his wife, has got the fire going all right, but the door’s open to the yard, as it’s a warm day. The patch of sunlight on the floor is so bright, I have to squint. A long stretch of shadow, and a cat wraps around the doorjamb and flattens himself out in the sunshine with a yawn. He rolls on his back, batting at ghosts.

Goody Green’s at the table wringing out cheesecloth. She looks harried, and no wonder, with the baby hiccoughing so. She was bouncing him up and down the hall when I arrived, beating him over her shoulder. I said she should hold him upside down and give him a little shake, but she glared and said, “If you’ll just wait for Reverend Green over there.”

I not being a mother, I suppose she’d ignore my advice, though it’s common knowledge how many Putnams I raised myself. Now I see she’s given up. The baby’s stashed in a long wooden cradle near enough that she can rock it with a foot, but she’s just letting him cough, all red in the face like a baked apple. And to be sure she can’t call on anyone for so much as a poultice.

No one can, in the village, anymore.

“Go on, then,” she says to me, giving the cloth a final twist. She’s got some arms, has Goody Reverend Green. “Don’t you keep him waiting.”

If she weren’t there, I could sneak away. I feel my heart pressing against my ribs, and the top of my head opening, as if my soul were being ripped from my body by the hair.

A girl in a dirty coif wanders in from the yard, finger in her mouth, her apron splotched with mud. She looks over at me all shy, because she doesn’t know me, or perhaps because she’s been warned to keep away. She’s like a sweet piglet walking on two legs, with those pink cheeks all in mud like that, and I smile at her. She squeaks in terror and runs to hide behind her mother.

“Come now, Ann,” the Reverend coaxes me from within his study.

It’s cooler in there. It’s away from the kitchen fire, with its window over the side yard, facing away from the sun. I’d like to sit. My feet are so tired.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

But there is.

There is everything to be afraid of.

I swallow the lead ball in my throat that no amount of swallowing can be rid of, and move into the shadows of the Reverend’s study. There’s a bench between his desk and the fireplace. It’s as hard as a church pew. I could swear the back isn’t so much straight as curved, to force my head to bow. But it’s not the bench that’s making me hang my head.

The Reverend gingerly sands his paper, blows it clean, and blots, holding the paper to the light to approve of his work. Satisfied, he turns at last to me.

But when his eyes fall on my face, he recoils, as if I’d moved to strike him.

I’ve come to Reverend Green to make my confession.

Part 1



And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

JOHN 10:22

Chapter 1



he truth is, I’m not sure when it started. I don’t actually think anybody really knows.

For a while figuring out the very first instance of it seemed really important. They were interviewing all of us because they wanted to find the locus of it, or whatever, I don’t really know. They marched us into the office one at a time, and there was this big map of the school up on a wall. It was covered in pins with little flags, each one with a date. It was super complicated. I think they thought that with enough pins and flags and yarn and everything, they’d figure it out, or at least it would look really impressive for the news cameras. And don’t get me wrong, it
impressive. All those arrows and everything looked wicked complicated. It didn’t help them figure anything out, though. I think it just made them feel better.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

If I was really forced to pick a date, like at gunpoint, I’d have to go with January 11. I’m saying that only because it was just a completely basic Wednesday with nothing much to recommend it.

Exactly the kind of day I shouldn’t remember.

We’d been back from winter break only a couple of days, but we’d already gotten into the routine. Senior year. Last semester. We were pretty keyed up. I mean, everybody’s always on edge when the semester starts, kind of, except spring semester senior year is like that normal nervousness times a million. Senior year is when it all comes together, all the years of studying and work and projects and sports and campaigns and whatever we’re into that we’ve been working really hard for—it’s either about to pay off or everything is about to completely fall apart. And don’t even get me started about waiting for college acceptance letters. But even though senior year is massive, is basically the moment that sets up the rest of our entire lives and whether we’re going to be successful and get everything we want or whether we’re going to die alone in a ditch in the snow, we still have to get up and make it through every day. I still get up and brush my teeth, right?

This Wednesday should have been the most generic Wednesday imaginable, even if it was a Wednesday of the spring semester of our last year at St. Joan’s.

“Sit,” my mother said.

I was standing by the kitchen sink shoving a cranberry muffin into my mouth.

“What?” I said, plucking at my shirt to shake the crumbs out the bottom.

“Colleen, for God’s sake. You won’t be able to digest anything. Would you sit down for five minutes?” Mom used the toe of her slipper to brush the crumbs under the edge of the dishwasher.

“Can’t. I’ve got to go,” I insisted as Dad came up behind us, rattling the car keys.

“Did you get the problem set done?” Mom asked. She licked her thumb to rub crumbs from the corner of my mouth, and I squirmed away from her.

“Mom! Get over it! Yes, I got the problem set done.”

“You want me to look it over real quick?”

“Linda,” my dad warned from the front door. He jingled the keys again, and I slung up my backpack and kissed Mom on the cheek.

“It’s fine,” I said. “I promise.”

Could there be a more normal Wednesday morning? It’s so normal, I almost want to embellish it, and add something kind of exciting or dramatic or interesting. But I just can’t, because nothing like that happened. Dad dropped me off at school, and the upper school hallway was awash like it always was in an ocean of girls in plaid skirts and cardigans and wool tights and Coach handbags from the outlet store. I knew most of them, at least well enough to say hello, though every class adds a lot of new girls freshman year and so the older we got, the more strangers started peppering the hallways.

“Hey, Colleen,” said someone in passing, I didn’t see who, but I said “Hey” back and nodded to be nice. I stopped by my locker to swap out some books and scroll through a few texts that didn’t seem very important. I was just replying to something, I don’t remember what, when I heard it.

“Colleeeen, I saw you standing alooooooone, without a dream in my heart . . . without a love of your own. Colleeeeeeeeeeen,” a voice hummed from inside my advisory classroom.

I looked up and grinned at the spines of my textbooks. Deena was stuck on “Blue Moon.” Again.

Deena’s the first one who’s important to know about. She came to St. Joan’s in sixth grade, and when she got here, she was the tallest one in the class, even taller than me, this string bean girl from Charleston with a shock of baby dreadlocks falling in layers to her shoulders. She had such a thick Southern accent that at first I kind of couldn’t tell what she was saying. But she lost the
after only a couple of weeks, and then she started dropping her
’s. That girl is a total language sponge. The craziest is when she speaks Japanese. I think she gets a special kick out of shocking people with it, especially when she was on her exchange program in Tokyo last summer—a six-foot-tall African American girl speaking near-fluent Japanese after just three months.

“Hey,” I said, sliding into my seat.

Deena grinned at me, spread her arms wide, and went for the big finish.

“Collleeeeeeeen! You knew just what I was there for, you heard me saying a prayer for, someone I really could care for!”

“She’s already been at this for, like, ten minutes,” Emma whispered to me, loudly enough that Deena could hear her.

Emma. Nominally, Emma is my best friend. I don’t even remember when I first met her, but we were tiny. Before preschool. She’s from Danvers, her parents are from Danvers, her grandparents were all from Danvers, her whole family lives in Danvers. Her brother, Mark, went to Endicott in Beverly because he didn’t want to be too far from Danvers. They all look alike, too, all the Blackburns. And they’re really clannish. Emma’s mom is one of those delicate blondes who is usually shuttered away with a headache, and when that happens, we can’t go over to the Blackburns’ house. They’re all very protective of each other. If somebody mentions, as I made the mistake of doing once, that maybe Emma’s mom would feel better if she just went outside once in a while, Emma will cut them dead with a look and say, “She can’t.”

Emma has always had a quietness to her, which is one of the reasons I like her so much. But it can also make her hard to read. Her reserve is a complete inversion of the chaos of my house. Emma was the last one of us to play with dolls—she was thirteen, which is kind of crazy, and we’d all already gotten our periods and were starting to text boys, but she’d still ask shyly if I wanted to bring my American Girl doll when I came over. They’re still out in her room, and I sometimes imagine her whispering to them when the lights go out. She has buttery-blond hair, which in the summers turns almost white in the sun. Her eyebrows are so light and pale, they almost don’t exist, and she refuses to wear makeup at all, which gives Emma a naked, otherworldly look.

Once it was clear that I liked Deena, Emma decided she was okay, too. It was Emma who taught Deena to stop saying “milk shake” when she meant “frappe.”

Deena’s elbow was taking up so much room that Fabiana had to squeeze herself around the desk to sit down next to her. Fabiana, I don’t know as well. She came to St. Joan’s as a freshman, part of that influx of new people when we got to upper school. She’s okay. Kind of annoying. I didn’t like to give much of myself away to Fabiana. It’s not that I didn’t like her, it’s just that we were applying a lot of the same places, and we were sort of in competition for grades, even though it was spring semester.

I don’t know why I just said “sort of” when I don’t mean that at all. Fabiana and I were competing for valedictorian. I know it’s not cool to seem like I care that much, and I wasn’t really supposed to make it look like I was trying hard to get the grades I was getting, but the truth is, I was having a hard time with it. For all of high school I’d been able to hold everyone else off without any trouble, and keep up the fiction that I didn’t have to work hard at it, and I didn’t really care. But the truth is, I cared. I cared a lot. And so did Fabiana. She watched me as coolly as I watched her.

Fabiana sat near us, but she wasn’t part of our group. We’re not supposed to have cliques at St. Joan’s, but honestly, good luck with keeping teenage girls from forming cliques. It’s not like we all had matching satin bomber jackets with our cutesy nicknames on the back. But Deena, Emma, and I were a clique, and the fourth member was Anjali. So Anjali was there already, too, and she’d been talking the whole time, pausing just long enough to give me a wave hello. I could tell we were all alive and breathing because Anjali was talking about Yale. It was the surest way to start a morning off right.

“Like in that movie, where he’s, like, a crew guy?”

The Skulls
?” someone asked.

“They are totally not like that at all, though I’ve heard that the inside is actually really that nice. It’s all crazy old, with portraits and everything. I heard that George Bush’s family gave them like a million dollars to redo the parlor after he trashed it at some party back in the sixties.”

I wasn’t sure whom Anjali was talking to. Emma? I glanced at her.

Maybe, on a technicality, but Emma was only half listening. Deena was too involved to care, and anyway this was all old territory.

“Secret societies, you know,” Emma explained in a whisper.

So she had been listening. Emma misses nothing.

“I mean, they don’t, like, give everybody cars like that. That’s totally not true,” Anjali continued, not seeming to care if anyone was listening or not.

Sometimes I felt a little sorry for Anjali. She had come to St. Joan’s the previous year because her mom got a job at Mass General. They lived a bunch of places before that—Houston, Chicago, I forget where else. Her mom is a big deal medical researcher, and her dad’s a lawyer, the kind who wears a gigantic watch and leaves papers all over the dining table so no one can ever eat there. They are really, really intense. Anjali fell in with us right away, because she’s completely fun and hilarious and smart, but I’ve seen her in tears over an A-minus—on a physics problem set, thanks very much, not even a final.

“They give you
?” Fabiana butted in.

“God,” Anjali said, rolling her eyes. “
I just said they didn’t.”

I shared a look with Emma, and Emma smiled out of the side of her mouth.

“It’s just for networking, you know? That’s basically the whole point. Did you know that if you get into Skull and Bones, you’re basically automatically in the CIA?”

“Since when do you want to be in the CIA?” I asked her. “I thought you were going pre-med.”

” Anjali said. “I’m just saying.”

“She could be a doctor for the CIA,” Emma reasoned, and Deena laughed.

“She could reprogram enemy agents,” Deena said, grinning. “Then send them back behind the lines where they’ll be like a sleeper cell ready to activate when they hear the secret password.”

“And the secret word would be?” Emma asked.

” I said, sending Emma and Deena into fits of giggles.

“You guys, shut up!” Anjali said, turning around and hitting my arm. “You are so gross.”

She was pretending to be upset, but she was smiling. Being the only one of us with a boyfriend came with the assumption that it was her privilege to let us tease her.

is so gross,” I clarified as Deena said, “Mmm-hmm,” and shot Anjali her
We keep telling you
look. That look is deadly.

The bell rang just as Father Molloy strode in, clapping his hands and saying, “All right, girls, let’s take it down a notch.”

Father Molloy is the kind of priest that my mother likes to call “Father Oh Well.” That’s such a Rowley family Irish name joke. Pathetic. Anyway, she says that because she thinks he’s cute, and I guess he sort of is except for he’s really old, like, forty. He perched with one knee up on the edge of the desk and frowned at the roll sheet. I don’t even know why he was bothering, since I don’t think we had any new girls this late in the year. We’d already had him for eighth-grade catechism anyway, most of us.

While he was distracted, Anjali pulled her phone out of her sweater pocket and slid it under the lid of her desk. There’s a pretty intense “no cell phones in class” policy at St. Joan’s, and Anjali is a prime offender. She can text without looking, which she swears is easy, though I’ve never been able to do it. They had taken at least two phones away from her in the previous semester that I know of, and when they take your phone away, they actually keep it. What I couldn’t believe was that Anjali’s parents kept buying her new ones. My mother told me that if they ever took my phone away, I’d be buying the next one myself. Which is fine, except I don’t have three hundred dollars just kicking around. I now texted during class only in the event of a dire emergency. Anjali, though, she’s ridiculous. I peered over her shoulder to see what she was writing.

“You shouldn’t text him back right away like that,” I whispered.

“What?” Anjali whispered back.

Father Molloy had started down the roll sheet for attendance, and girls were responding when he called their names.

“Emma Blackburn?”

“Here,” Emma said.

“Jennifer Crawford?”

“Here,” said the girl with pink-streaked hair and heavy eyeliner sitting in the back of the room.

I leaned in closer so Anjali could hear me. “You should at least wait five minutes. Or, heck, wait ’til fifth period. Then he’ll appreciate it.”

Deena had her eyes fixed straight ahead, but I could tell she was listening.

“What for? I like him. If I text back quickly, I hear from him sooner,” Anjali said out of the side of her mouth.

“But, Anj,” I said, leaning forward on my elbows hard enough to tip the desk. “You’ve got to—”

“Critical commentary, Miss Rowley?”


“No, Father Molloy.”

He dropped the roll sheet on the desk and folded his arms. I’d seen him give other girls that look before, but I didn’t think he’d ever given it to me.

BOOK: Conversion
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