Howe to connect with children

January 18, 2016

State Sen. Thomas McGee and Katherine Howe celebrate her Massachusetts Book Award.


MARBLEHEAD — Marblehead resident and New York Times Bestselling Author Katherine Howe was honored for her book “Conversion” at the State House Tuesday.

Howe received the 2016 Massachusetts Book Award for Children’s Middle-Grade/Young Adult Literature from The Massachusetts Center for the Book. The award is given for books that are published by commonwealth residents or are about Massachusetts subjects.

“It’s super exciting,” Howe said. “I was really surprised and beside myself.

“It was a red letter day,” she said.

The Massachusetts Center for the Book is a public-private partnership charged with developing, supporting, and promoting cultural programming that will advance the cause of books and reading and enhance the outreach potential of Massachusetts libraries, according to its website.

“It’s a way to encourage literary life in the State and to spotlight Massachusetts writers,” Howe said.

“It is the state level affiliate with the Library of Congress,” Howe said. “They administer the largest State book award program in the country.”

The award is given each year in multiple different categories. Howe received the award for Young Adult and Middle-Grade, she said.

“Conversion” is a Young Adult novel published by Penguin Books. It’s a story about a girl, Colleen, who is a senior at a high-pressure, all-girl preparatory school where students are under many pressures.

One girl becomes unexplainably ill with a mystery illness, only for her close group of friends to follow suit. The girls suffer from seizures, violent coughing, and hair loss.

Colleen realizes that Danvers, where the story takes place, was once Salem Village, where three centuries ago a group of girls exhibited bizarre behavior and were accused and executed for witchcraft.

Everyone’s attention is on the town to try to come up with some sort of explanation as to what is causing the illness. Everything from pollution to stress is considered. The realization is finally made that the girls are suffering from a hysteria outbreak.

“You would think it would be easier to be a tenager today than in the 1690s,” Howe said. “For whatever reason, the experience is so intense that it causes your body to break down.”

“It’s modeled on a real thing that happened,” Howe said.

Howe previously edited The Penguin Book of Witches, which is a collection of real-life accounts of witches. It includes everything from the manual for witch hunters written by King James in 1597 to court documents from the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

In 2012, Howe hosted the Expedition Week special “Salem: Unmasking the Devil” on the National Geographic Channel.

Though she has been nominated before, Howe said that this is the first time she has received an award of this caliber.

“Conversion” is available in hardcover, paperback, and kindle edition.

Bridget Turcotte can be reached at