Incantation

Incantation by Alice Hoffman.

This is the remarkable book that tells the story of Estrella, a teenage girl growing up in Spain around 1500.  She slowly realizes as the book progresses that she is somehow different than the others in her village, despite the fact that her family has lived there for 500 years.  As the details are slowly exposed, Estrella learns that her family are actually Marranos, Jews who live in secrecy because of all of the hatred and exclusion of Jews in the society.  Estrella also learns through the course of the book that she is more powerful and intelligent than she had ever realized.  When her best friend grows jealous because her cousin is courting Estrella, she does the unthinkable and turns in Estrella’s grandfather as a magician and heretic.  Estrella realizes at that point that there is a monster of hatred that all people must battle within themselves and that sometimes the monster is strong enough to overtake an entire society.

Hoffman’s language is pure poetry.  This slim volume is easily consumed, but you will find yourself stopping time and again simply to reread her words that breathe a detailed life into Estrella and her surroundings.  There is a beauty here that adds to the pain and the horror.  It is masterfully done, a book of poetry without verses.   The characterization is wonderful with the adults around Estrella become more and more human as their secrets are revealed. 

But I must comment more on the writing itself.  Here is a paragraph from the first page which made me know immediately that this was a book I was going to love.

“I have crossed over to a place where I never thought I’d be.  I am someone I would have never imagined.  A secret.  A dream.  I am this, body and soul.  Burn me.  Drown me.  Tell me lies.  I will still be who I am.” 

It is writing like this, characters like these, that make writing for teens so expansive and amazing.  Occasionally I think about reading more books for adults and leaving behind books for teens, but then I find a gem like this one, a book that will stay with me for years, that I will recommend to others whether they read books for teens or not.  It is pure, graceful poetry.