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"A monster is hard to see and even harder to kill. It takes time to grow so huge, time to crawl up into the open air. People will tell you it's not there; you're imagining things. But a book is a book. Pages are pages. Hawks are hawks. Doves are doves. Hatred is always hatred."

Estrella is Esther and her family is Marrano, caught during the Spanish Inquisition when Spanish Jews hid their heritage camouflaged as Spanish Catholics. Sixteen-year-old Estrella knows nothing of evils or monsters, nor is she aware that anyone can suddenly become an outcast. Estrella's life is full of hope and dreams of a happy future with her best friend, Catalina. Both girls have black hair and look so much alike. Catalina is the Crow and Estrella is the Raven, and the two plan, as sisters might, for the day when they will raise their children as friends. They know each other so well --- until the day the monster is brought to life in the town square.

The day soldiers come into the plaza and publicly burn a rabbi's books is the day the town is poisoned. It becomes dangerous and full of fearful hate, the hate often used as protection. The soldiers reward those who turn against neighbors as they uncover the Conversos, who practice Judaism at home and in a church with a congregation of other Conversos. A mere accusation would suffice and seal the guilt; the accused would suffer unimaginable punishment and humiliation.

For most of Estrella's life she is unaware of her family's true identity --- their greatest secret. Estrella never questions her private name (Esther), family traditions such as lighting candles before dinner and not eating pork, or her grandfather being a teacher. But Catalina does notice that Estrella always makes the sign of the cross backwards.

Estrella's confidence in Catalina's character fades when she learns that her best friend may have turned in their neighbor, an act that leads to their deaths. Catalina is poisoned, but the poison becomes deadly when she realizes that her handsome betrothed has fallen in love with Estrella. Catalina's betrayal leads to a series of arrests with horrific consequences. Friendship ends in tragic destruction as a new love forms, and a silly, innocent girl becomes a burdened woman carrying unbelievable responsibilities for her people.

Alice Hoffman's story of love, friendship and betrayal is set during a deplorable period in history, a time of religious intolerance and racial discrimination, when individuals benefited from turning against their best friends. This cautionary tale painfully describes the haunting consequences of Catalina's betrayal; it advises that the monsters of hatred, intolerance and discrimination have existed through time.

INCANTATION is such a powerful novel that it captured me from the start, seriously wounding my heart and conscience with its affecting portrayal of Estrella.

Reviewed by Patsy Side on October 4, 2006

by Alice Hoffman

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2007
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316154288
  • ISBN-13: 9780316154284