Minli's Reviews > Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
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's review
Feb 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: made-me-laugh, historical, middle-grade, adorable, gaps-list
Read in February, 2011

This book is hilarious! It would be a five-star book for sure if I had read it when I was in middle school. My roommate gasped when I told her I hadn't, and then rushed out to buy me a copy. After reading it, I can really tell it had an influence on her as a child, because I can see bits of it in the adult version of her.

Catherine is witty and wry; she complains a lot, hates her parents, and thinks a lot of things are stupid; in short, she is like every other fourteen-year-old I know. Her big pleasures in life are food, spectacle and adventure. Set in medieval England (12th century, I believe?), the novel is a great supplement to a history unit--as it has been in many classes I'm sure. Cushman faithfully writes the concerns of the day... women as property and young girls getting married off to middle age Shaggy Beards, fear of women dying in childbirth, tithes during harvest season, that sort of thing. Catherine is quite sassy and feminist, though I would never mistake her for a 21st century heroine even if she does write in the vernacular/comprehensible English ;)

The novel's diary format works most of the time, but not all of the time. Catherine begins each entry with the date and a brief description of whose saint's day it is (and POINTS for the observation that men seem to get canonized for doing stuff and women seem to get canonized by being some dude's mother or refusing to marry someone). However, as a narrative, it sags in some places--because of the diary format, there's little dialogue and a lot of internal monologue. And I mean a lot. If you don't like Catherine, you'll probably find it exasperating.

Finally, it is no surprise to me that Cushman is a fan of Ellis Peters.
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