1973 Honor: The Witches of Worm (Beware of the Cat)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 4/5

The 1973 Newbery Honor, The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, is a chilling and disturbing tale of one girl’s growing paranoia and belief that her cat is making her do horrible things to the people around her.

This book is a great children’s psychological horror novel with an atmospheric gothic vibe. The main character is a neglected child who is a manipulative liar with a mild curiosity of the Salem witch trials. When Jessica comes across an abandoned cat on a stormy night in her secret cave, she is at first repelled by it’s unnatural looks, but she ends up taking it in despite being disgusted by it. Everything is fine until the cat begins speaking to her and telling her to do horrible things – such as lying to her landlady about an intruder in the yard, getting a schoolmate into trouble with her mom, and smashing her former best friend’s instrument. The situation finally escalates to the point where Jessica believes she needs to kill the possessed cat.

Snyder does a fantastic job at building up Jessica’s paranoia – at first it’s just little things like Jessica believing the cat is talking to her and making suggestions to help her, but then it ramps up to the fact that the cat causes her to feel trapped in her own home. She has no one to talk to, with a mother who is more interested in finding her next husband than helping her daughter, a school-appointed counselor that Jessica doesn’t trust, and Mrs. Fortune – the resident cat lady who is oddly witch-like. Jessica is truly alone with no one to talk to except for the cat.

Throughout the entire book, the reader is left guessing at what is really going on in the story. Is the cat really a witch? Or is Jessica just using him as a scapegoat for her horrible misdeeds? The story ends on an ambiguous note where one is left questioning whether there were really witches involved or if Jessica’s own self-denial and overactive imagination were causing the events to happen. It’s up to the reader to truly decide the outcome and feels slightly unresolved in a classic horror sense.

I would highly recommend The Witches of Worm to anyone who loves a good horror story.

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