The Witches of Worm was nominated for a Newbery Award in 1973, but ultimately lost to Julie of the Wolves. It is still one of the creepiest books I can remember reading, yes even Goosbumps or Scary Tales to Tell in the Dark, partly because the horror was all psychological. Anyway, I wanted to see if the book still holds up so I reread it this weekend, and boy does it.
As an old favorite this fills the Throwback Thursday slot on my Bingo card.
The plot is pretty simple, Jessica finds a young kitten while exploring some caves. He’s a very ugly thing, but she feels pity and takes him home. With the help of her neighbor she nurses him and keeps him alive. However, he never gets the cute stage of kittens so Jessica names him Worm. Her rather overactive imagination, fed by many a book, decides that he must be a witches cat because he’s so very ugly. When Worm starts talking to Jessica she feels her suspicions are confirmed, and that she has no choice but to become the witch that Worm is telling her to become. As Worm starts telling her to do more and more wicked things, Jessica gives in and does some rather horrible things to the people around her. It’s a chilling psychological study of a very lonely child desperate for attention.
There is no magic in this book, everything that happens is very much grounded in reality. The horror comes, not from a magical entity threatening Jessica, but rather from Jessica herself. She’s angry and bitter and she lashes out at the world because of that. Like I said, this book stuck with me for a long time. It’s a lonely, haunting book and I’m glad that it holds up.