Lois Duncan

Gallows Hill

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Gallows Hill Summary

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Gallows Hill is a 1997 fantasy thriller novel by American author Lois Duncan. Set in a small rural town, it follows Sarah Zoltanneis, a teenage girl who is labeled a witch after becoming involved in a series of supernatural events. The story mirrors the course of the Salem Witch Trials, in which hundreds of innocent women were wrongly accused of using dark magic to inflict turmoil and pain on New England society. As Sarah is persecuted with increasing fervor, she yearns to escape her town and become an adult.

The novel begins shortly after Sarah moves to town with her mother. After traveling all the way from California, they move in with her mother’s boyfriend. Sarah is immediately struck by the differences between the cultures of her previous home and her new one. The town is highly religious and politically conservative. To make matters worse, Sarah butts heads with her soon-to-be stepsister, Kyra. Seventeen and in her final year of high school, Sarah looks forward to becoming independent as soon as possible.

Even after several months at her new school, Sarah has no close friends. She is also troubled by recurring nightmares that she develops a crush on Eric, a classmate who happens to be Kyra’s best friend. When their high school puts on a festival for Halloween, the student body picks Sarah, as the newest student, to play a fortuneteller. She resists at first, but her mother and soon-to-be stepfather pressure her to accept. When she arrives at the festival and dresses up as a fortuneteller, her student managers give her a hat equipped with a microphone and speaker. They tell her that they picked her because she has few ties to her peers, and can help them collect gossip. Soon, the plan goes awry. Her crystal ball starts to speak with its own voice, giving Sarah uncannily deep knowledge about her classmates.

When Sarah starts to disseminate some of her knowledge at school, the other students are perturbed. They quickly brand her as a witch, shoving her even further out of their social circles. Sarah then discovers that the crystal ball she used was not a prop, but an actual crystal ball used by mystics. Moreover, the crystal ball has recognized Sarah as an inheritor of some of these same magical powers. As the voices continue to plague her, she starts to think she is going insane. After doing some more research, she realizes that the voices are not her own, but belong to the witches of the past who were murdered in the Salem Witch Trials. The witches are now vying for possession of Sarah’s mind, hoping that if they seize control, they will virtually have accomplished their resurrection.

The paranoia and panic in the town increase until a group of students, including the football team and cheerleading squad, are so certain that Sarah is a witch that they try to kill her. Before they can, her mom and mom’s boyfriend save her. Neither of them knows what is happening to Sarah, and are unable to help the plague of voices. At last, Charlie, a classmate believes Sarah’s story about the crystal ball and helps her figure out a plan. Sarah and Charlie realize that the only way to get rid of the voices is to allow the witches’ spirits to live out their woes and experience peace. One by one, she follows their voices, solving their remaining problems until they all dissipate. At the novel’s end, Sarah moves out of town with her mom and mom’s boyfriend. They finally get married with Sarah’s blessing, and Sarah is happy to call him her stepfather.