Study Guide

A Break With Charity Summary

By Ann Rinaldi

A Break With Charity Summary

Let's get spooky, Shmoopers. It's 1706 and our narrator Susanna English is in her old church. She's feeling pretty haunted by the past and we're about to learn why: this lass lived in Salem. Yep, the very Salem where the witch trials went down in 1692.

The only reason Susanna is even back in her old church is because Ann Putnam, an evil girl, is about to apologize to the town. You see, Ann stirred up oodles of trouble back in 1692, and Susanna wishes she could hop in a time machine and change the past.

And if there's one thing Susanna really wants to change, it's her own part in the witch trials. Wait, how was Susanna involved? Well we're about to find out.

Now that our narrator has given us a not-so-cheery start to her tale, we're not surprised that the rest of the story is pretty dark and creepy. She takes us back to December of 1691. Susanna wants to hang out with the girls who are chilling inside Reverend Parris's house while he's out. And they're not being good little Puritans either—nope, they're conjuring up spells with the reverend's slave, Tituba. Now that is seriously against the rules.

Susanna never gets invited to join this group, but she does have a chit chat with Tituba about her big bro William who is out at sea, and over time Susanna learns that Tituba has been meeting with Ann and her posse of girls. Oh, and these girls are starting to act like they're possessed. Yep, you read that right—possessed. By 1692, suspicions of witchcraft have officially come to Salem.

(By the way, the Salem Witch Trials actually happened back in the day. So you know all the folks who are accused of witchcraft in this book? Well sadly that actually went down back in 1692. But here's the strangest thing: no one knows why the witch craziness began. So Ann Rinaldi came up with an idea about how the witch mayhem might've started in Salem, and that's where the rest of this story comes from. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

So now we've got oodles of witch nonsense afoot in Salem. The good news is that Susanna knows better. She's not about to get mixed up in this witch craze so she goes straight to Ann Putnam's house to tell her to knock it off. But the bad news is that Ann won't listen. You see, Ann says that with all their fake fits, she and her posse are excused from chores and getting tons of attention, to boot. They're having fun, and if it means naming some folks as witches, Ann's happy to go for it. And when Susanna threatens to let the cat out of the bag, Ann says she'll name the English family as witches. Bully much?

So one day at the parsonage Ann and her clique accuse Tituba and two other ladies of being witches. They're all carted off to jail, which is super sad since, you know, since they're innocent and all. Susanna is stuck keeping her big secret to protect her family.

All over Salem, there are two reactions to all this witchcraft madness:

Reaction (1): Yeowza—arresting witches is fun. Even though most of the townsfolk think being a witch means you've made a pact with the devil, they sure do get excited about folks being accused of being witches. Even Susanna's crush Johnathan thinks witches are real.

Reaction (2): Pshaw—believing in witchcraft is dumb. Susanna's mom and dad, who are both cool freethinkers, know that witchcraft is a bunch of malarkey and they're not buying it. Her sister Mary, and their family friends Joseph and Elizabeth Putnam are also too reasonable to hop on board the witchcraft train.

Unfortunately most of Salem seems to favor mayhem, so the witch hunt continues. The lying girls name more and more townsfolk and they start coming up for trial. The only silver lining is that all this hullaballoo makes Johnathan realize there aren't really witches in Salem, so he's joins the good guys, which makes us happy.

But after Mama English defends an accused witch's sister one day, she gets arrested for being a witch herself. Uh-oh. Not long after, dad gets arrested too, so Susanna and Mary head to Joseph and Elizabeth Putnam's house. Eventually Susanna's mom, dad, and sis head off to Boston where they'll have a bit more freedom than in the gross Salem jail.

Susanna hangs tight in Salem—she wants to be around in case she gets a chance to out Ann for all her lying. And we really want Susanna to speak up soon because the new Governor Phips has set up a court to start trying the witches for real. At the Court of Oyer and Terminer, oodles of witches are found guilty… And now they've started hanging people, too.

Eventually Susanna tells Joseph what she knows. Finally, right? Joseph wants Susanna to tell some of his influential judge pals, but she ends up getting freaked out. You see, there's word going around that a witch named Mary Bradbury tried to wreck Susanna's big bro's ship and Susanna spends a chunk of time believing this nonsense until a meeting with Mary makes her come to her senses.

So now we can all breathe a big sigh of relief because Susanna tells her story to a nice guy named Reverend Pike, and this inspires him to write a letter to another Salem judge. Soon after, Susanna chats with another important dude named Thomas Brattle who publishes a letter speaking out against the witch trials.

The whole time folks are still being hanged, which is pretty much the worst news ever. But eventually all the reasonable chatter gets around and the witch trials are over. Phew. Plus, big bro William returns home. Susanna is stoked, but she's also super sad about the nineteen innocent folks that were killed. And so are we.

Now fast forward back to 1706. Susanna is still in her old church and Ann is apologizing to the whole congregation. Here's the deal: Susanna is super peeved at Ann since she caused some seriously murderous mayhem. But our girl actually forgives Ann all the same, and that's pretty impressive.

Oh and there's more good news: Susanna and Johnathan get hitched. Maybe this story isn't all spookiness after all.

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