This summer, I’m re-reading books of my girlhood, guided by the reading list in Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. Revisiting some of these as an adult is great fun, but also fascinating to see what I notice now and didn’t notice as a girl.
Chapter 6 of Shelf Discovery is “Girls Gone Wild: Runaways, Left Behinds, and Ladies Living off the Fat of the Land.” In one of the books from this chapter, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, teen girl Kit Tyler sails from Bermuda, where her grandfather and guardian just died. Unannounced, she arrives in Puritan New England, where her only other relatives are immediately embarrassed and inconvenienced by the impulsive and less-than-empathetic Kit, who has come to stay.
The contrast between Kit’s indulged childhood and the Puritan way of life is stark, but as an adult, I can see how both sides are more nuanced than I probably perceived when I was younger. Also, Kit is a selfish, spoiled, immature girl. I’m sure I related to her as a girl, but now can see her through the eyes of her Aunt Rachel. What’s enjoyable about this book is that Kit changes and grows, though doesn’t completely submit to the Puritan way of life.
Overall, I found this an immensely satisfying read with some pretty traditional romance novel tropes and a very traditional court scene. Kit meets the sailor Nat, but they quarrel. Then she meets a Puritan who courts her. He’s rich, and while she doesn’t love him, she likes the idea of what his money can get her, i.e. out of hard work and into pretty dresses. In the meantime she meets odd Hannah Tupper, the titular character and the one I think of every time I hear the Pearl Jam song “Crazy Mary.” Kit also befriends an abused girl, Prudence. In the end, everything, and I do mean pretty much everything, comes out right. Happy endings for all!
I will grudgingly admit that there might be some cliches in this book, but I still enjoyed seeing Kit’s (and a few other characters, too) uppance come, plus learning about Puritan New England.