Medieval Stories

All read in the spring of 2012.


Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman—four stars.

Catherine is the daughter of a minor lord in medieval England—which, to her, is even worse than being just a villager, because at least the villagers can choose their own marriages. Birdy’s greedy father keeps trying to arrange marriages for her, but Birdy is too clever and tricks or scares her suitors away. She’s such a fun character, and I don’t know, maybe it’s just the phase I’m in, but I’m really loving the stories of girls in the thirteenth century right now. The life is so fascinating and these two writers have a wonderful style that makes it a lot of fun to read.


The Book of the Maidservant, by Rebecca Barnhouse—four stars.

This book was lovely, and became even more so when I read the author’s note at the end. It’s based on The Book of Margery Kempe, the first autobiography in English, which details Kempe’s religious pilgrimages. When she read that book, Rebecca Barnhouse paid attention to how Kempe described her maidservant and thought it sounded a little fishy. This is the part I love—that Barnhouse was able to see through Kempe’s own words and imagine what Kempe was like from the maid’s perspective. Johanna is a likable narrator and her story is at times so painful and frustrating that I just kept wishing, over and over, that the next sentence would have her hauling back and punching certain characters right in the face. For me, the description of life in the fifteenth century was wonderful and so fascinating to read. And unlike many other YA books I’ve read, this one is very well-written; I loved the style, and didn’t have to keep reminding myself, “it’s written for kids, it’s written for kids” (*cough*Rick Riordan*cough*). I loved the chance to see what the life of a young girl in Europe in the 1400s was like.


Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman—three stars.

This wasn’t one of my favorite stories, but the setting is still so interesting. If there’s anyone who can make the Middle Ages come to life for younger readers, it’s Karen Cushman.

The Midwife’s Apprentice, by Karen Cushman—three stars.

From the Horn Book starred review: “Like Cushman’s 1995 Newbery Honor Book, Catherine, Called Birdy, this novel is about a strong young woman in medieval England who finds her own way home . . . From the first page, (readers) are caught by the spirit of the homeless, nameless waif . . . (who) gets the village midwife to take her in, names herself Alyce, and learns something about delivering babies. When she fails, she runs away, but she picks herself up and returns to work and independence.”

So the thing about this book is that I liked it, but only a certain amount. I wasn’t caught by the protagonist from the first page, and I don’t think this book is nearly as good as Catherine, Called Birdy. Alyce’s story is really fantastic, and I love all the things that happen. It is a great book, and I enjoyed it—especially the middle chunk, which I listened to on audio—but I never felt hooked. Luckily it’s such a short book that that was never an issue, and I would still definitely recommend it. It’s a lovely story of learning strength, overcoming fear, and finding your place in the world.


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