I think we all have some kind of heinous memory of reading a classic novel in high school. For many, myself included, it’s gotta be The Scarlet Letter.
Hawthorne’s novel is the peak look into a puritanical society. Laurie Albanese’s Hester, is a look into the creation of Hawthorne’s novel.
Part historical fiction, part romance, Hester looks at the “real” Hester Prynn, Isobel Gamble. Isobel has gambled her future on the new world: Salem, Massachusetts. When her husband abandons her upon their arrival, she is left struggling as a needleworker, till she meets young writer, Nationiel Hathorne.
Haunted by the past of his ancestors who sent innocent people to the gallows, Nationiel is trying to change his name in Salem. *real life sidenote: Hawthorne actually changed his last name in order to separate himself from his family’s history during the Salem witch trials.*
Isobel is facing her own troubles, as a suddenly single immigrant in a new world. She should be scared. But instead, she views the world not only bravely, but in color. Isobel’s synesthesia makes the world magical, a curse in a society that hates the different. As she and Nationiel begin a forbidden romance, they are left to wonder: how much has really changed since the witch trials?
Albanese does a superb job at describing synesthesia. She shows the reader what Isobel is seeing incredibly well. You are seeing the world how Isobel sees it: full of unseen color.
Albanese’s book has been named the most anticipated book of the fall by Goodreads, which, in my humble opinion, lives up to the hype. It’s the perfect erasure to the Scarlet Letter trauma of our teens.
Hester challenges many of the notions portrayed in The Scarlet Letter. Albanese looks at many topics that Hawthorne didn’t touch upon. I’d like to note here that I don’t think you need to have read the Scarlet Letter in order to enjoy Hester. While Hester references the book and is about the writing of it, you don’t need to crack open your Hawthorne to understand Hester.
Some trigger warnings include drug use/addiction, talk of slavery and the slave trade, and xenophobia.
As spooky season begins and we begin consuming mass amounts of witchy media (Hocus Pocus 2, anyone?) Hester is a must read.
Lorynn Watt is a junior English major at DeSales University. She’s the daughter of Meg, the Queen Bee, though if you call her Princess Bee she will definitely cut you. When Lorynn isn’t reading, she can be found writing, listening to a weird mish-mash of music, cuddling her dogs and guinea pigs, and ingesting too much caffeine.