We Played with Fire

Catherine Barter (Andersen Press)

We Played With Fire

Review by Alice
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I liked the fact it is set in 1848 in New York State; I feel this is a time and place that is often not thought of in a mystical light.

I found the plot took a while to get going, however once it did I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. I really enjoyed the unique combination of suspense, excitement and mystery that was entangled among the plot. I was also intrigued by the significant events discussed by the characters such as the abolition of slavery. It was interesting to see the perspective ordinary people had at this time on the issue. In this sense, it has widened my knowledge on the subject.

I found the character Calvin the most interesting; he developed in a way I didn't expect and had a captivating backstory. I personally didn't like Leah as she always seemed to be hiding something and would manipulate her own family to get what she wanted.

I would definitely recommend this book to someone who is interested in unexplainable events in the real world as I have never read a book quite like this before. 

Review by Carys
My favourite character in this novel had to be our main character, Maggie Fox, the middle Fox sister. The story was told from her point of view and we get to explore her personality and the internal conflict with herself and emotions she felt towards other characters. She is determined to prove that the spirit world exists and that she is not at fault for a spiritual incident that resulted in a young girl breaking both her arms when she was a child. Throughout the story we can see how her character develops and matures.

A character that I wasn’t particularly fond of was Mr. Fox the father of the fox sisters who was hinted to having problems with drinking and gambling before Maggie and Kate Fox were born. He is also very dismissive of his daughters believing that they were silly children playing games and did not support them in their pursuits in the slightest.

From this book I learnt about how America developed after its independence from the British empire and how new industries and ideas were rife. It also explores the abolition of slavery and the racial prejudice that is present during this time. I didn’t know much about this time period before reading this book and it greatly helped expand my understanding of this period of history.

The plot of this book was quite serious and heavy, it made me think about what measures people will go to in order to find condolence of loved ones that have previously passed. It also explores the heavy themes of death and how many people died in order to find themselves along with the severity and violence that occurred if you strayed from the accepted norms of religion.

This book has made me want to research the significance of religion through the centuries and how it has become less significant in the last few decades. I would also like to know what the retributions of that society would be if you did not conform to the standards of normality at that time e.g. homosexuality, atheism, not being married.

I would only recommend this book to people who can cope with heavier themes and present issues in the world today. My one dislike about this book is that it is quite slow to begin with and very confusing at the start due to the story structure. However, it all becomes clear after the first 100 pages and the novel gains momentum about halfway through.

Review by Millie
I am honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book and I do not think my low expectations were a terrible thing. I simply did not know what to expect from this story. It ended up surprising me in a clever way. Yes, this book is about the supernatural, but it is also about the way we view the world and how our perception affects us. I very much enjoyed the way this book did not simply focus on the supernatural aspect of the story, but also talked about important things that were going on at the time, such as the women's rights movement and the abolition of slavery. I had not expected to be so impacted by this story, but I am glad I was! this story really questioned how much was fake, and how much might be truth as the Fox sisters grapple sudden fame, growing up and religion in the 1800s United States.

I loved that this was never black and white. I was left to make up my own mind as to whether Maggie really was connecting with spirits, or if, like her clients, it was all a product of her own imagination, believing what it wanted or needed to believe. While the start of the story seemed like it was going to go down a tropey route, it proved me wrong, and I would most definitely recommend this book to any young adult readers who enjoy exploring and learning about the supernatural. The writer creates such a bond between Maggie and the reader. You see so many of her thoughts and struggles going on within her own head. Especially the struggles and frustration when people do not believe her. It is a very trapped feeling.

The author researched this well, intertwining the abolitionist movement and feminism with Maggie's own realisations that the true reason Priests condemned her séances was that they felt she was taking the power away from their sex.

I loved that Maggie was not a flawless character, she had flaws, she lied. She was not the warmest person, but all of this and more fleshed her out to be a more rounded character.

Even though we do not get a 1st person for any of Maggie's sisters, I do think we got a good look at their characteristics through the eyes of Maggie. Especially Leah, the eldest sister. Her greed and desperation to escape the judgements of her past are so tangible. She thinks money and notoriety will erase the shame of being a single parent after her husband runs off. Highlighting this taboo of the time also added something to worldbuilding to make you feel that you are reading about a different kind of society. Even though there are still some echoes of this judgement in today's world.

The author also included a lot of scenes talking about the abolitionist movement happening at the time. The girls would have heard about this growing up and added yet more authenticity. I'm so glad that this was included, as even though a lot of facts have been exchanged for fiction, actual names and times surrounding this movement were the same. It was so important to mention this monumental societal shift to bring awareness to new readers who may not have learned or been exposed to this history.

Review by Zara
I like Maggie because she comes up with all these mischievous plans that she thinks will help her and her sister reveal the truth about the devil. There are no characters that I dislike.

This book also explored the theme of slavery, and this was incredibly interesting. I also [found] how little gender equality there is and how little power is given to women and how difficult it is for Maggie and Kate to make a name for themselves really intriguing, and upsetting.

I think the plot is thought-provoking because it makes you think about how long people have been suffering from racism and the fight for equal rights and gender equality.

What stood out to me was the girls first engaged in little tricks they would do to their parents to make them believe there is paranormal activity going on in the house. It was so fascinating that so many adults were convinced and believed it was true. I don’t think that Maggie believed it herself though!

Overall, I would recommend it, but I would warn that it is a slightly slow read.

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