For girls growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, the Dear America series was a much-loved fixture. The series consisted of fictionalized diaries of early adolescent girls living through important—and often perilous—times in American history. Topics ranged from the sinking of the Titanic to the Revolutionary War to 60s counter-culture.
Dr. Lisa Rowe Fraustino, chair of the English Department at ECSU, is the author of the Dear America book “I Walk In Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials.” Published in 2004, the book follows the life of 12-year-old Deliverance, a recent transplant to Salem whose family previously lived in Connecticut and Maine. Deliverance is a down-to-earth girl who follows the proceedings of the trials with shock and disbelief. The book also looks at her everyday life, including her squabbles with her sister Remembrance.
Deliverance forms a relationship with a fictionalized version of Martha Corey, who was one of the nineteen people executed for witchcraft in Salem. “I needed to give a human face to at least one of the so-called witches. I chose Martha Corey because out of all the people I read about, it felt like she had the most sense. She was the one who called these girls out. She knew they were full of it,” said Dr. Fraustino.
Dr. Fraustino has been interested in the Salem Witch Trials since reading about them as a girl growing up in rural Maine. “Maine used to be part of Massachusetts. If you look at Maine history, there were connections to the trials there. When I dug and saw those connections I felt like my roots were being tugged at,” said Fraustino. She even completed her high school senior project on the subject of witchcraft.
Writing the book was a challenge for Fraustino on many fronts. “It’s always a challenge to make a book of historical fiction accurately so [children] believe it, and at the same time make it readable for a contemporary child. I wanted to capture a voice that could be from that time. But it couldn’t be an exact transcript because today’s readers wouldn’t be able to connect with that,” said Dr. Fraustino.
Due to the disturbing nature of the Salem Witch Trials, Fraustino also struggled with which details to put in and which ones to leave out of the book. This partly motivated her decision to have Deliverance be somewhat of an outsider in Salem. Yet, she also wanted to tell the story of the Salem Witch Trials honestly. “I believe children and adults have the right to know the truth, but it’s also a work of fiction. I tried to communicate what was really going on, but had the character keep a certain distance from it at the same time,” said Fraustino.
In addition to learning about the Salem Witch Trials, Dr. Fraustino wanted to show girls’ and women’s roles during the Puritan Era. “I wanted to represent [the period] in such a way that you could identify with a strong girl and how life was so difficult compared to now. What if you had a kid who had asthma? You didn’t have inhalers then,” said Dr. Fraustino.
Although writing in an epistolary form is challenging, Dr. Fraustino believes that this form makes it easier for kids to connect with the material. “While a lot of kids like history, they really like the stories in history. They like to experience through characters. It’s more engaging,” said Dr. Fraustino.