When Light Breaks Through

A Salem Witch Trials Story

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
294 Pages
Reviewed on 07/20/2023
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Saifunnissa Hassam for Readers' Favorite

Brenda Murphy's When Light Breaks Through is a well-researched historical novel based on the 1692 Salem Village witchcraft trials in Massachusetts. The characters are based on actual figures of the time. At the story's core is the challenge of helping a deeply divided community to find peace and forgiveness. The principal characters are Ann Putnam (Junior) and Reverend Joseph Green. The story starts in 1692 in Salem Village. Ann Putnam, 12, and her friend Abby Williams, 11, play a game pretending to be afflicted and tormented by specters and witches. The two girls accuse specific community members of witchcraft. The trials, imprisonment, and executions of the accused create deep enmity and unforgettable suffering. In 1697, Joseph Green, 22, a schoolteacher and aspiring church minister from nearby Roxbury, became the pastor of the Salem Village church. When Light Breaks Through is how Joseph Green brought reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace to Salem.

I was immediately drawn into reading Brenda Murphy's When Light Breaks Through for its compelling characters and thought-provoking themes of forgiveness and peace. I particularly liked the story's richly detailed and evocative worldbuilding of 17th-century Salem Village, the farming community, family life, disputes within and between families, land disputes, and power struggles. The characters and the story sprang to life through those details. The novel's most challenging and chilling parts were the trials and the dark, complex web of motivations, accusations, grievances, and revenge. I liked the character development of Joseph Green. He is well aware of the challenges he faces when he became the Salem Village church pastor. I was often moved by how his beliefs and tolerance, forgiveness, and friendship helped him recognize opportunities to build bridges between people. I think the most poignant and emotionally moving parts of the story are when Ann Putnam comes to respect and trust Joseph Green and she finally confesses her role in the witchcraft trials. Joseph helps her seek forgiveness from the villagers. These scenes were particularly immersive and beautifully illustrated the story's title.

Ronél Steyn

Brenda Murphy has taken public information, readily available, and brought us a historical novel, When Light Breaks Through: A Salem Witch Trials Story. The year 1692 will forever be remembered and associated with the name of Salem Village. Ann Putnam and her friend Abby Williams started a childish game that turned into something dangerous; something they were unable to stop by themselves. It resulted in the executions of 20 people. When Joseph Green moved to Salem Village six years later, his aim was to bridge the divide between its people with love and fellowship. As their pastor, he was able to help the community move on from the witch trials and find forgiveness for the past. With characters based on real people, this story could be more fact than fiction.

Author Brenda Murphy has created a possible true account of the happenings of Salem Village. With the help of factual information gathered from testimonies, journal entries, and true confessions, she was able to create a picture of 17th-century Massachusetts that was vivid and realistic. The characters were relatable and their growth was evident, as it should have been. I was able to understand why the children did what they did as well as how things were able to escalate so easily. When Light Breaks Through most definitely corrected my knowledge and perspective regarding the Salem Witch Trials. I gladly recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about that particular event, especially from the perspective of Ann Putnam Jr. and Pastor Joseph Green.

Manik Chaturmutha

When Light Breaks Through by Brenda Murphy takes the reader on a journey through the beginning and the aftermath of the notorious Salem witch trials in early 18th-century Massachusetts. The story primarily revolves around the lives of Ann Putnam who, as a young girl, was a significant accuser during the trials, and Reverend Joseph Green, who had come to Salem years later, hoping to reunite the divided communities. The story focuses on the themes of manipulation, guilt, and redemption that marked the trials and their lingering consequences.

Murphy's writing style is descriptive and immersive, recreating the historical setting and the atmosphere of Salem Village. Ann Putnam's character arc is portrayed beautifully. Her transformation from a manipulated young girl who faked being hurt during the witch trials to falsely accuse people to a woman seeking redemption with the help of Joseph Green shows remarkable depth. Murphy has done an excellent job of exploring the intricacies of human nature. The premise is based on real-life events and characters, which adds a layer of depth to the story while also humanizing the characters we've only heard of in these horrifying stories of executions. The themes of forgiveness and the consequences of one's actions are central, making the book engaging and emotionally resonant.

Initially, the plot unfolds quickly to establish a connection with the characters and their relationships and the events that led to the trials. The second part of the book is comparatively gradual. The themes shift from dark and gritty to lighter, placing importance on redemption and second chances. Overall, When Light Breaks Through is a finely crafted historical fiction novel that offers readers a fresh perspective on the aftermath of the Salem witch trials. Brenda Murphy excels in adding depth to these people and stories and skillfully delving into themes of redemption and forgiveness. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in reading historical fiction.

Alma Boucher

In When Light Breaks Through by Brenda Murphy, Ann Putnam was the leader of the 'bewitched' children who accused women of witchcraft, which resulted in executions and imprisonment. Joseph Green faces a difficult task when he takes on the Salem Village Ministry. Joseph assists the community in overcoming the division caused by the Salem witch trials. Together with his wife, Elizabeth, Joseph gradually wins the congregation’s trust before taking some bold measures. Ann explores her dark past with Joseph’s help and learns shocking truths about her family and her intentions as a child. Joseph Green assists her when she begs for the people’s pardon. Standing in front of the villagers whose loved ones were sent to prison or their deaths, she makes a plea that might bring the community together.

When Light Breaks Through: A Salem Witch Trials Story is historical fiction based on facts. The author takes us past the witch trials and into Salem Village to give a compelling, extensive tale of what transpired there. Brenda Murphy's writing transported me to the beginning of the 17th century, and I had a clear understanding of how things were at that time. This story is a page-turner and I could not put it down. The characters were fascinating, especially the two main characters Joseph and Ann. Joseph Green was aware of the difficulties he would encounter as the pastor of the Salem Village Church, and with his example of tolerance, forgiveness, and friendliness, he built bridges between people. The most dramatic moment in the story is when Ann Putnam admits her part in the witchcraft trials. This story offers a new viewpoint on the Salem witch trials and is compellingly written.

Grant Leishman

When Light Breaks Through: A Salem Witch Trials Story by Brenda Murphy is a fictionalized recreation of well-recorded historical events. What began in 1692, in the village of Salem, Massachusetts as a childhood game to gain favor with the adults rapidly spiraled out of control as more and more villagers were accused, convicted, and executed for the heinous crime of witchcraft. Twelve-year-old Ann Putnam was the leader of these “afflicted children”, an affliction that later spread to some adults and resulted in the execution of twenty villagers for practicing witchcraft. It tore the small village apart as the families of the accusers and those of the accused squared off against each other. In 1697 a young Harvard graduate, Joseph Green, was appointed as the new minister in Salem Village, with the unenviable task of trying to unite the villagers, so devastated by the witch trials five years earlier, by preaching forgiveness and reconciliation. Slowly and with gentle persuasion, Joseph will begin to unravel the secrets within the Putnam family, as Ann begins to understand the magnitude of the evil this childhood game had unleashed upon the village. Based on the lives of the real participants in this dreadful undertaking, this story exposes the depth of ignorance and severe privations that existed in early colonial America.

When Light Breaks Through is a compelling read. Knowing that these events did occur and that the fanciful actions of a small group of young girls were able to wreak such havoc on the lives of a small colonial village gives this tale the gravitas it delivers. Author Brenda Murphy has researched her topic deeply and has referenced all the known works on the Salem Witch Trials in her story. By using the real characters and their actions from historical records and only using literary license when facts were unsure or motivations were unknown, her story has a deep impact. I was impressed with Joseph Green and his devotion both to his wife and children and also to his wider village flock. It says a lot for the man’s character that he was prepared to work so assiduously to bring the events of 1692 out into the open and deal with them in a mood of reconciliation, no matter how horrific these may have been. One thing that stood out glaringly is the absolute privations the early colonists faced. Women in these colonies would routinely give birth to between ten and fifteen children, yet most would only see four or five reach adulthood if they were fortunate. Life was very brutal on the colonial frontier and more often than not it was the colonists’ faith that sustained them. Joseph Green understood this perfectly and this was why he worked so tirelessly to bring the entire village of Salem back to communion with their God, regardless of their feelings of enmity toward one another. This was an enlightening read and one that made me think. I can highly recommend this book.

K.C. Finn

When Light Breaks Through: A Salem Witch Trials Story is a novel in the historical fiction, interpersonal drama, and slice-of-life subgenres. Penned by author Brenda Murphy, it is best suited to the adult reading audience. The work is a compelling and deeply researched historical fiction novel that takes readers beyond the well-known Salem witch trials to explore the lives and motivations of the people involved. Starting in 1692, the story revolves around twelve-year-old Ann Putnam, who becomes a leader of the afflicted children who accuse numerous individuals of witchcraft. This led to a harrowing series of events, including executions and widespread suffering for those accused and their families. The narrative then shifts to 1697, focusing on Joseph Green, a young schoolteacher who takes on the challenging role of the minister in Salem Village.

Author Brenda Murphy's meticulous research shines through in this enthralling novel, grounding the story in historical accuracy while breathing life into these characters. I also really enjoyed the way that the different strands of narrative brought together the perspectives of various characters, offering a well-rounded view of this dark chapter in American history. The author really brings forward the people who were trying to help rather than just those who caused so much harm. The author sheds light on the complexities of the Salem witch trials and the resilience of those who sought to heal a divided community, but does so with a well-paced and engaging plot, inviting characters, and descriptive skill that whisks you away into total historical immersion. Overall, I would certainly recommend When Light Breaks Through as a compelling read and a poignant exploration of human nature, redemption, and the enduring impact of historical events.