Samantha Meyer's Reviews > The Midwife's Apprentice

The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
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Apr 22, 2012

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The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman is a work of historical fiction about a little girl with no name known only as Brat about 12 years old. She is found keeping warm in a pile of manure by the town midwife. Brat begs for food and assures her that she can work so the midwife hires her as an apprentice. Brat is renamed Beetle by the midwife and works for a small amount of food. Beetle endures constant bullying from the midwife, baker, miller and the local boys but as she learns from the midwife her confidence grows. She provides throughout the narrative a glimpse into the world that she lives in; a world where the devil visits the town and compels people to steal and commit adultery; spices, animal blood and various plants can keep fairies and demons away from women in labor. One day when Beetle is mistaken for another girl named Alyce, she decides to take the name for herself. Alyce is learning a lot from the midwife but when she tries and fails to help a woman deliver her child, she flees the town and finds work at an inn. She feels that she knows nothing and is too stupid to be a midwife's apprentice. Alyce regains her confidence when a woman shows up at the inn about to give birth and Alyce helps her deliver the baby successfully. This is the boost she needs to go back to the town and become the midwife's apprentice again.
The young girl named Alyce/Beetle is the main character in the book and we see a real change in her from the beginning of the book to the end. Her character starts off being very timid and not comfortable in her own skin. By the end, however, she knows who she is and what her place is in the world. I loved seeing her grow throughout the story. The setting is very interesting because it takes place in medieval times but the language is relatively modern so it is easy for children to understand. All the information in the story is accurate and relevant to the time period which provides interesting reading for those interested in history. The conflict is centered around Alyce and deals with her interactions with the village people but mostly with herself. Alyce is forever doubting herself but this doubt gradually subsides as the story progresses. She becomes empowered by the end and she knows that she has finally found her place.
This book was an interesting look into medieval times not from the perspective of a monarch or noble but from a young girl who has no place in the world. I think students would be interested in how people lived but maybe disturbed to see how difficult things were. I found it almost comical the types of things they would use to prevent the devil from coming and the foods that they ate. I think students would enjoy this book for the easy understanding in provides.

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