The ghost of Cotton Mather has made another appearance in modern America: this time in a Young Adult novel about bullying.
How to Hang a Witch is the debut work of Adriana Mather, a Mather of the Mathers.
Adriana identifies as a descendent of the famous Puritan and says she learned about her Mather lineage and Cotton Mather from her great-grandmother, a teacher and amateur historian who “catalogued everything from our family.”
Now she’s turned her personal history into a bit of fiction. The heroine of the new novel How to Hang a Witch is also a Mather of the Mathers. The 15-year-old protagonist moves to Salem, Mass. with her stepmother, only to discover that her family’s connection to the witch trials make her a target of the witches who dominate her school.
Also there’s a ghost boy and a whisper about a Mather-family curse.
“‘Not having a good first day at Salem High?’
“I shake my head. ‘Have you noticed a group of girls in my grade that wear all black—rich goth types?’
“I venture a look at Jaxon. ‘What?’
“‘Like that?’ He nods toward a guy and a girl entering the room. The guy wears an expensive–looking black button-down shirt, black pants, and black loafers. And she has on a floor-length black dress with a tailored black blazer. Her hair is a perfect bob.
“‘Yeah, exactly like that.’
“‘There are five of them in our school. He’s the only dude. They’re descended from the original witches. Everyone kinda love-hates them. People think they can curse you if they want to. I think it’s total bull.’
“‘You’re kidding, right?’ But I can tell from his expression that he’s not.”
Publisher’s Weekly says the novel is “an entertaining story that draws intriguing parallels between the 17th-century trials and modern-day bullying, as well as the fears and mob mentalities behind both.”
Adriana Mather said she wanted to show how the mob-mentality of the witch trials were not as outdated as one might think. “We look at the Salem Witch Trials,” she said in a promotional interview, “and think, ‘How could they ever let something horrible like that happen?’ But it’s not that different for the people who suffer from bullying now.”
Mather’s ghost thus provides pop culture another modern lesson in how not to be a bully.