Anna Gwendolyn Clark is aged fifteen. After the death of her father, Anna and her mother have moved home to Scotland, partly to establish Anna beyond the reach of some serious bullying.
The bullying involved Anna in some very public humiliation. She and her mother hope that moving to Scotland, with a careful campaign of anonymity, will save Anna from further exposure and help her recover her equilibrium.
In her new environment Anna discovers a new interest. Back in the sixteenth century there was a witch trial in the part of Scotland where Anna now lives. Anna studies the trial of the witch Maggie Morgan with the help of Glen, a historian who is also a wheelchair user. Bates makes an interesting three-way study of the varied forms of discrimination endured by Anna, the long dead Maggie and the scholar Glen.
This book has two major claims to merit. It combines the contemporary narrative with the period account of sixteenth century events in a skilful and seamless manner. It also depicts the scholar Glen as a mature, intelligent and fully functional adult who happens to be a wheelchair user. This is a combination of attributes far less common in YA literature than some readers might imagine and far less common than it ought to be.
An otherwise uplifting book is marred for this reviewer by two defects. First, the deputy head teacher and staff of the Scottish school are unaccountably slow to recognise Anna’s difficulty and help her deal with it. In real life of course there may be reasons for such a pastoral failure. But if they exist in this fictional context Bates does not indicate what they are. There is also a problem of credibility with one plot development. As stated, Anna’s mother has erected a wall of anonymity around the move to Scotland, in order to avoid the public humiliation following Anna to her new context. This campaign demanded a substantial effort. Yet in conversation with a former friend Anna’s mother gives away enough information about their whereabouts to blow the anonymity out of the water – with a predictable result. Why on earth would a mother act so foolishly? Bates does not succeed in making this disastrous revelation ring true. It is these two defects that for this reviewer spoil an otherwise outstanding book.