Book Review: Catherine, Called Birdy

|+| Triggers: Abusive parent |+| 

“Innocent? Me?” ~ Catherine (Catherine, Called Birdy)

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Author: Karen Cushman

Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

Summary: “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.

But 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!

My Opinion: I swear I am actually doing a horror reading challenge. I swear! (Look! See? Proof! But yet again I detour from horror, this time to take a gander at a historical fiction book that I had seen around since elementary school. I always thought about picking it up and reading it, but until I found it in a “Free Books” box I didn’t bother reading it. Frankly I’m glad for it. With minimal diversity, a deus ex machina ending, and a repetitive feel throughout I gave this book 2.5 stars.

This book started off strong. It delivered exactly what it promised on the back of the book. A smart-alack teenager pulling off a variety of pranks to get rid of potential suitors. It had humor, it had a good possible love interest, it had some diversity that wound up being eye opening for the heroine. And then at page 50 the book started to fall flat. Which is a real shame because the book had so much potential.

The focus drastically shifts around this point and the book starts to read much more like a laundry list of boring things Catherine does. Catherine spends most of the book being bored after about page 50 (which isn’t even the half way point). When she has her only meeting with her future husband to be, she despairs, although doesn’t quite give up, and talks about all the pranks she can and will do but she never goes through with any of them. And continually does so through the rest of the book. Summary of day, how much she hates her suitor, how she’ll get rid of him. The pranks are what is promised in the book summary, and what made Catherine such an interesting character at the start. There was so much that could have been done, so many possible encounters between her and Shaggy Beard, who is clearly set up as an antagonist yet there was nothing.

Shaggy Beard isn’t the only antagonist in the book. I would say the real antagonist is Catherine’s father. Again, this is where the book had a lot of potential yet missed out. Catherine’s father is abusive towards her and both of them are very head strong. This would have been a wonderful way to explore relationships during medieval times, especially because Catherine comes from an upper middle class family, so there’s the  marrying young element, the daughter’s position in the household, and the societal pressures that she and her father would both be facing. These elements are hardly explored beyond the “lady lessons” and arguments which are always summarized for us.

By the end of the book, despite this being a diary entry style, I barely knew the heroine or anyone she was friends with. Which was endlessly frustrating.

I wanted this book to be great. I wanted this book to live up to all the hype it had when I was a kid and it’s a Newbery Honor book! For the most part I enjoy Newbery Honor picks. Yet despite the hype and the promising start this book just wasn’t for me.

TL;DR: This is a short book that had a lot of promise, but for me it almost wasn’t worth it. It started off strong but almost as quickly lost its momentum and fell flat. I pushed on hoping that what started off strong would end strong but it didn’t pan out that way. By the end of the book I hardly knew the character despite the diary entry format. This book had a lot of potential and it has some solid themes in it, yet it fell flat and I wound up being disappointed by all the book could have been.

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