Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees From A God To A Witch

The final Six Degrees of 2020 begins with a novel that’s one of the most frequently challenged books in the USA.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume is a novel about the anxieties of faith and puberty. It’s been banned from many US schools due to its detailed depictions of sex and because the protagonist, Katherine, uses a form of birth control. frank talk of menstruation and its presentation of Christian characters in a negative light.


Let’s kick off this chain with another novel in which a young girl writes to God: The Colour Purple by Alice Walker. Set mainly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of Celie is a poor, uneducated 14-year-old girl who turns to God for help when the man she thought was her father, beats and rapes her. Though it won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it’s also been banned from school libraries because of its sometimes explicit content.

One of the issues Walker tackles in her novel is the abysmally low position women have in American social culture in the 1930s.  In the absence of help from state or church, women turn to each other for support and hope. Through this sisterhood, Cecile gains the confidence to speak up and learns how to create her own narrative.


This idea of the power of narrative and speech to resist oppression is also evident in the novel I’ve just finished reading: The Girl With The Louding Voice by Ari Daré. Set in Nigeria, this too has a 14-year-old female protagonist whose own desires are ignored and suppressed by her father. All Adunni wants to do is to finish her education and become a teacher. But instead she ends up first in an arranged marriage and then, through a series of unfortunate events, as the downtrodden servant of a violent, irrational businesswoman. She turns to books to help her deal with the oppression.


Daré powerfully portrays the physical and mental violence exerted upon this young girl. Those scenes made for uncomfortable reading but they were nowhere near as appalling as the treatment of Ebla, the female central character in From A Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah. It’s set in Somalia, a country where Elba is subjected to female genital mutilation in her pre-teen years, leaving her physically and emotionally scarred.

It not a novel that I can say I enjoyed reading but I did finish it feeling I’d gained more insight into the cultural norms of this society.


Equally insightful but considerably more enjoyable was The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga in which she pays homage to her family who were victims of the genocide perpetrated on the Tutsi minority in Rwanda. Centre stage is her mother Stefania, as fierce a protector of her family as she is of the Rwandan traditions. Despite the ever present threat of death and rape, she and the other village women keep up the practices of storytelling around the fire and weaving grass cradles for new babies.


Stefania is an expert in the use of plants, tubers and leaves as natural remedies for sickness and disease. Another novel that features a woman with natural talents as a healer is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, one of the best books I’ve read in 2020. I loved the way O’Farrell rescues Agnes Hathaway from the shadows she’s always occupied as the wife William Shakespeare left behind in Stratford. In O’Farrell’s portrayal, Agnes is also famous, renowned in Stratford as a gifted herbalist and often called upon for help when the skills of the physicians prove inadequate.


Women with healing powers were in past centuries, also treated with suspicion and accused of witchcraft. Which takes me to my final novel in this chain, featuring a legendary figure renowned for her vast knowledge of potions and herbs but who was also known as a sorceress and a witch. In Circe Madeleine Miller brings a new perspective to the character of this daughter of a Greek god, presenting her actions not as forms of revenge but of self-preservation.  

And so we come to the end of a chain that started with one form of a deity and ended with the daughter of another. It’s always great fun to see where these chains take us.

Next month we start with Hamnet. Since I’ve already featured that this month, I’ll have to get even more creative to find a different link in January. If you fancy giving this a go, hop over to the blog of our host Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

My original post contained incorrect information about the reasons this book has been challenged in the US and subsequently banned from many schools and libraries. I managed to mix up some elements from a later Judy Blume novel called Forever. Fortunately some astute readers spotted the error and this has now been corrected – hence the text that has been struck through.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

28 thoughts on “Six Degrees From A God To A Witch

  • My goodness, the first time I did Six Degrees, back in August, I included both Circe and Hamnet. And it won’t be long before I include The Girl with The Louding Voice, I’m sure. This is a great chain. Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

    • Wow, what a coincidence. I haven’t written my review of Louding Voice yet, but I loved it.

      • Me too. It’ll appear in my Six Degrees at some point, I’m sure.

    • Sometimes they come together easily and other months it takes me several attempts

  • Great chain, and you get to use Hamnet again for January. I LOVED that book!

  • What a great chain! I love how you’ve incorporated so much diverse, contemporary writing.

  • A very interesting list, I liked it! Will have to look up Hamnet.

  • You’ve mixed up Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret , about first periods, questioning religion etc with Forever, which is the one about first love and sex 🙂
    Not that it matters for the sake of the chain particularly:)

    • I made a mess of this didn’t I! Have now corrected it…..

      • 😂😂😂 I was thinking I missed a lot when I dozed off in the middle of the book! Makes more sense now! 😂😂🎁

  • I do not remember the sex or birth control in Are You There God… my memory is of a lonely girl struggling to relate to her peers or her parents. Maybe I need to read it again. Regardless, this is an intriguing chain, Karen.

    • Never fear, your memory is accurate. I’m the one with the scrambled mind. I had planned to use a different Blume novel (Forever) as my second link. Scribbled some notes into my document but managed when I came to write the post, to mix up the elements of Forever with those of Are You There……
      When am I ever going to learn not to write posts late at night when I am tired……

  • I like that you end on a theme of witchcraft, I wonder if Agnes was ever accused or afraid of that, or perhaps that was the wrong era.

    After two novels featuring the accused Tituba, I’m now reading a wonderful Scottish historical and contemporary perspective on foraging, spell-poems and witch panics, in Dr Alice Tarbuck’s A Spell in the Wild, in which Circe is also mentioned.

    • Accusations of witchcraft were prevalent at the time but there’s no record of Agnes ever having been formally accused. If she had, it would have been a very serious matter and there would have been a trial (of a kind). I think it was more a case of street gossip

  • Great links Karen. I particularly like the jump to The color purple – on content and politics!

  • I love the way you’ve taken us to Africa with your #6Degrees. There’s such wonderful writing coming from that continent these days!

    • Nigeria seems to be producing some particularly strong authors .

        • I’ve read only one Ghanian author – a crime fiction series by Kwei Quartery – so if you have some other recommendations I’d like to hear them Lisa

        • Two classics by women writers are Changes, by Ama Ata Aidoo and Faceless, by Amma Darko, but if you are interested in African writing in general, firstly, follow the Johannesburg Review of Books (it’s free) and secondly, if you scroll down my categories in the drop down list to ORIGIN OF AUTHOR, you will see that I have grouped them by continent and there are 63 under Africa. (And you’ll notice that S. Africa and Nigeria are the best represented because they have the most advanced publishing industry. I’ve only got four reviewed on my blog, but I have more from Ghana on my TBR including Yaa Gyasi who is a rising star. Goodreads also has this list:

        • Thanks for those leads Lisa. I’ll go in search of the Johannesburg Review of Books – it sounds like a great resource.
          I’ve read Gyasi’s debut novel but hadn’t tagged it as Ghana. I suspect because she lived there for only the first 2 years of her life. It’s one of those tricky questions I bump up against often – if an author was born in Country A but has lived most of their life in Country B (typically USA), which do I use for the tag..

  • Fantastic chain Karen! I love where you took us! I did a reread of Are You There God for my post and it didn’t hold up for me. I wouldn’t ban it, but it’s messaging is subtly problematic in many ways. Of course, I was listening to the audio and I feel asleep during the middle part! I didn’t care that much to rewind. I thought the ending was weak. I’m looking forward to creating a chain for Hamnet! I grew weary of making chains for books I hadn’t read so I skipped a few months.

    • I’ve only read one book by Blume – Forever – which would have resonated more I think if I’d read it as a young adolescent rather than an adult.


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