Incantation by Alice Hoffman

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Hoffman, Alice. Incantation. Little Brown, 2007. ISBN  978-0316154284. 192 pp. $8.99

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Estrella deMadrigal is aware that she lives in dangerous times. Jews are designated with red circles on their coats and city is divided religiously, with Muslims in one corner and Jews in another. Set in Spain the 1500’s, Estrella’s tightly knit family appear at first to witches. Knowledgeable practitioners of folk medicine, they attend a special church and practice many customs that are different from their neighbors, who include Estrella’s best friend, Catalina. It isn’t until the Inquisition posts a list of characteristics of Jews that Estrella understands her own identity, and the locked doors to her family’s secrets are opened. When Estrella falls for Catalina’s cousin, a Catholic, her smart and jealous friend betrays the deMadrigal family, and Estrella’s life changes again.

Alice Hoffman’s books for teens have an allegorical feel to them, and Incantation is no exception. Her sentences are straightforward yet lovely, filled with imagery that can be symbolically interpreted, for example, Estrella’s name and the descriptions of the horrors the community experiences serve as an allusion to the Holocaust. This powerful historical novel about the Spanish Inquisition deserves a place on both school and public library shelves.

Review by Beth Gallaway

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