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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
Catherine, Called Birdy - Karen Cushman Why I bought this book...

A), it was cheap and on sale, and B) because it starts like this:
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.

13TH Day of September
My father must suffer from ale head this day, for he cracked me twice before dinner instead of once. I hope his angry liver bursts.

Catherine is a young teen--fourteen--growing up in medieval (13th Century) England. She's a bit of an anachronism in that she isn't giddy about the prospect of being married off to whatever grotesque old man her father chooses. Well, maybe this isn't so anachronistic. I imagine even girls back then dreamed of marrying a handsome young prince. But Catherine makes her objections known in a time when daughters were supposed to be obedient, mewling, etc. etc. And when that doesn't work, she cooks up schemes to chase off any would-be suitors. This works well enough until her father arranges a marriage to a man that Catherine calls "the pig." A moniker that she admits, is an insult to pigs. The pig isn't put off by Catherine's best efforts (she acts like a lunatic around him).

The neat thing about Catherine, Called Birdy, is that while the young heroine is a kind of feminist, the story doesn't push the point to unbelievability. Ultimately, Catherine must still operate within the confines of a medieval social structure. She just does it in a snarky fashion.

The world she inhabits isn't the usual clean, romanticized vision of the 1200s usually seen in fiction. As the above intro suggests, it is a grubby place where people bathe once or twice a year, where fleas are the norm, and medicine consists of concoctions filled with insect carapaces and crushed leaves. This is the kind of world where a woman's primary function, making babies, is a hazardous and often lethal occupation.

Still, Catherine manages it all, including her teen angst, which she thinks is a malfunction of her liver humors, with wry humor and clever observations of life in a knight's manor and the surrounding village.

I suspect that readers who are fond of their fathers, who have a loving, warm relationship with Pops might find Catherine's attitude toward Dear Old Dad, shocking. Me, I harbor no fussy-wuzzies for my male parental unit. Plus, in Catherine's defense, her dad smacks her around. Some might argue that this is normal for the time period, but it's still abusive.

Originally, I rated this five stars, but knocked it down to four for an ending that felt a little too abrupt, a little too convenient.