This is my favourite novel from my childhood. I read it so much I had to buy another copy because the first fell apart. I love Catherine. She fights to be herself in a place where she is expected to be a certain way. She learns to work around the limitations she's been given. She never stops trying. And she lands herself in some hilarious situations along the way. She showed me what it was to be independent at an age where I wasn't sure what that meant. This book also inspired my love for medieval England and British history. Highly recommend, especially to anyone with a young daughter.
A good close-up look at life in the 13th Century. Birdy's father is trying to marry her off now that she has reached 14 years old. Other fathers keep arriving with their sons to discuss weddings and dowry. Birdy has no intention of being bargained off like a cow and does her best to sabotage the negotiations. She sets the privy on fire while one fat slob is in it! The book has timely descriptions of the mud, filth, horse poop, etc., in the roads and the fleas infesting everyone. I would not want to live then! Does her father get his way or will some miracle save Birdy from marriage to an old, fat, greasy slob? Read this!
Birdy is a girl ahead of her time. Trapped in well-to-do medieval manorial life, she tries to invent ways to escape both the place and the people surrounding her. Birdy is funny, sarcastic, wry, observant, sensitive toward folks she respects and merciless toward those she disdains. The story, written as a diary, moves smoothly through Birdy's trials and schemes and reactions. She's someone the reader would like to know personally, if only for the fun of hearing what she'd say next. But probably no reader would want to switch places with Birdy and feel caged for life as Birdy does. In the end she does escape, though not in the way she expects or to the extent she'd choose. There were serious limits on women then, even for those who had money. The one element of the story that I found difficult to believe was Birdy's acceptance of her father's physical brutality. I would think she'd suffer more inside herself because of it. But that's my only caveat about this book, which I definitely enjoyed.
Let me say that I read this book in one sitting, I enjoyed it that much. Catherine, the 14-year-old daughter of a Knight and Lady, has an arranged marriage in her future: that's how things were done. We the reader are privy to Catherine's journal, which is an absolute delight to read because it shows us how people behaved at the time, what they believed, what they ate, wore, how they cleaned themselves and their homes, and so on. Religion in the form of the Catholic Church is ever-present in the life of the people.
Catherine has some of the sensibilities of a modern young woman: though not so much that the story was unbelievable. As one reviewer on Amazon pointed out, she uses precious paper and ink in a very modern way, to write down her thoughts and curses ("Corpus bones, what a torture."). It seems highly, highly unlikely for a young woman of that time to do something like this, and most likely even if she had a journal, her mother would have supervised what was written in it, or checked up on it.
On the other hand, if the author hadn't presented Catherine this way, she (the character) wouldn't be very interesting. And so I'm willing to suspend belief for a while to enjoy this story about a young woman trying in her own way to assert her identity, to rebel against the narrow role that society has dictated for her. The ending is realistic and therefore satisfying. This is a very good book that is very deserving of its Newbury Honor Medal.
This is another gem that I discovered in a graduate class. Catherine, Called Birdy is a historical novel set in Medieval England in the year 1290, and is written in the form of diary entries. Catherine, who is fourteen-years-old, is the daughter of Lord Rollo and Lady Aislinn, and sister to Thomas, Edward, and Robert. She lives in a manor house, and begins the diary upon the prompting of her favorite brother Edward, who is a monk at an abbey.
The diary contains Catherine's entries of a year in her life which is filled with rich details of life in medieval England. It begins on the 19th of September, 1290 and Catherine writes on the leftover skins from the household accounts. She writes that she is the daughter of a country knight with ten servants and seventy villagers. Catherine's intense dislike of her father is evidenced throughout the diary. She also laments her situation as a girl with limited prospects. All she does on a daily basis is sew, hem, brew, nurse, and count linen, activities which she does not care for. Instead, she daydreams about going off to fight in the Crusades and lead an adventurous life, like some of her brothers and uncle Robert. She also finds herself in a predicament as her father keeps trying to marry her off to a series of incompatible suitors, finally betrothing her to a vile old man whom she calls Shaggy Beard.
Catherine is a complex and multi-dimensional character who is well-delineated. Contrary to the times she lived in, where women were considered no more than chattel to be bartered at will, Catherine is presented as a strong-willed and opinionated young woman. The feelings that Catherine expresses through her diary entries are typical for an adolescent dealing with difficult issues, and though the setting of the story is medieval England, these feelings are relevant in today's context and are feelings many adolescents will identify with.The author's writing style is witty and engaging with the main character using interesting and often funny phrases to convey how she is feeling, such as "Corpus Bones!" as an expression of frustration. Catherine is a young woman ahead of her time and a character many adolescents will relate to.