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  • Writer's pictureNeighborhood Reads

Maria's Pick: "Hester" by Laurie Lico Albanese


Set in the early 1800’s, Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese is a reimagining of the back story to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Growing up in Scotland, young Isobel Gamble can see colors when she hears sounds, a condition known today as synesthesia. Fearful that Isobel will be accused of being a witch (like her ancestor of the same name), Isobel’s mother admonishes her not to talk about her condition. She is trained as a seamstress and married off to Edward, an older man and apothecary who eventually becomes addicted to opium. Edward's addiction ultimately leads to their financial ruin.


Edward and Isobel board a ship to the New World, hoping for a fresh start. Soon after their arrival, Edward decides to leave again to be a medic on a return ship. Isobel is left alone and penniless in Salem, trying to make a little money with her sewing skills. Isobel meets Nathanial Hawthorne, who is haunted by his own family secrets. The two are immediately attracted to each other and thus begins the reimagining of the classic story.


This is an interesting and creative take on the backstory of Hester Prynne. The novel's scope is impressive in that it encompasses many historical themes including witch trials, the underground railroad, the immigrant experience, male domination, and the subservient role that wives played.


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