Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review: Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine, Called Birdy (1994) by Karen Cushman

Back Cover: “Corpus Bones! I utterly loathe my life.” Catherine feels trapped. Her father is determined to marry her off to a rich man—any rich man, no matter how awful. By wit, trickery, and luck, Catherine manages to send several would-be husbands packing. Then a shaggy-bearded suitor from the north comes to call—by far the oldest, ugliest, most revolting suitor of them all. Unfortunately, he is also the richest. Can a sharp-tongued, high-spirited, clever young maiden with a mind of her own actually lose the battle against an ill-mannered, piglike lord and an unimaginative, greedy toad of a father? Deus! Not if Catherine has anything to say about it!

Review: The year is 1290, and Catherine is fourteen. She loathes spinning and sewing, likes birds and Perkin the goat boy, and will tolerate writing an account of her days if it frees her from the torture of stitchery.

Catherine is a force to be reckoned with. Every time I’ve read this book, I love Catherine more. She is real, relatable, and far from perfect. Her dramatic personality and cleverness are immediately apparent, even in just the first two sentences:

12th day of September

I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.

Cushman is a master with the diary-entries. They are never boring, and she expertly weaves necessary exposition into Catherine’s humorous accounts without ever making it obvious or losing momentum, as in this passage:

24th day of September

The stars and my family align to make my life black and miserable. My mother seeks to make me a fine lady—dumb, docile, and accomplished—so I must take lady-lessons and keep my mouth closed. My brother Edward thinks even girls should not be ignorant, so he taught me to read holy books and to write, even though I would rather sit in an apple tree and wonder. Now my father, the toad, conspires to sell me like a cheese to some lack-wit seeking a wife.

What makes this clodpole suitor anxious to have me? I am no beauty, being sun-browned and gray-eyed, with poor eyesight and a stubborn disposition. My family holds but two small manors. We have plenty of cheese and apples but no silver or jewels or boundless acres to attract a suitor.

Corpus bones! He comes to dine with us in two days’ time. I plan to cross my eyes and drool in my meat.

The book is light-hearted and fast, but that doesn’t make the reader any less invested in Catherine’s well-being. When the stakes are raised by the gruesome suitor from the north, my reaction every time is “NOOOO, GROSS, GET IT AWAY, CATHERINE YOU CAN DO THIS, COME ON!”

One of the reasons I like this book so well is because Catherine is such a strong character. She is multi-faceted, and develops and changes over the course of the book in believable ways. Her ingenious schemes to keep suitors away (and the way she describes them) are often ROFL-worthy.

This book is probably considered Middle Grade, but it would be a tragedy to miss it, no matter your age.

Conclusion: This book is excellent. It is well-written, memorable, and Catherine’s unique voice makes it stand out in the crowd. 5/5 FOR BEING AWESOME. (Click here for an overview of my rating policy).


P.S. You can read several pages at Amazon.

FTC: I am in no way affiliated with the author, publishers, or other corporations associated with this product. This includes Amazon.

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