The thing I love so much about Retro Reads is that it gives me an opportunity to not only share my favorite childhood books but also allows me to look at the literature that helped to shape who I am today as a reader. There are countless books, both classics and (what I guess could be called) modern classics, that have become the definitions of good literature, the examples to which I hold all other books. Most Thursdays I’ve featured silly, fun books that I remember loving when I was younger, but today… today I’m pulling out the big gun.
If I had to choose a favorite book from my young adult-hood, Catherine, Called Birdy would be it. Out of any book I’ve ever read, this book has been THE prime example of what I want out of a book, out of a plot, out of a character. I love a book that is so uniquely written and keeps me held on until the very in, leaving me sighing with happiness and cheering for its characters. I love a plot where escape from a situation seems impossible, where hope is nearly lost until a miracle happens at the very end. I love a good snarky, witty, sarcastic character, one who is faced with pressures of life or obligations to something. And I especially love girls with all of these traits who are ahead of their time.
Catherine, Called Birdy exemplifies ALL these things and more. Just look at the cover. Don’t you want to read this book?!
Catherine, Called Birdy is written journal style by Catherine, who is encouraged to document her life as a means for helping to control her temper, something that seems to plague everyone else but her and gets her into heaps of trouble. She is the daughter of a minor English nobleman, a fat, pompous, greasy-bearded bear of a man who wants to force his daughter to marry for his advantage. As he finds various suitors to set Catherine up with, she finds various ways to scare them off, all of them pretty hilarious. She dresses her hair with mouse bones, blackens her teeth with soot, wiggles her ears. To her joy she manages to scare them away, earning her the wrath of her father.
But then a man comes along who she calls Shaggy Beard and is unable to scare away. As her impending marriage looms, she must learn to deal with her life and the restrictions that come with it, all while handling the various changes that are occurring as she grows up.
Even today this book is filled with scenes that still have me laughing loudly. Catherine is a hilarious girl, full of fire and rebellion. Her views on life are universal, relevant today although she lived so many years ago. For a young teenager, this book was the perfect find for me. I find myself comparing other characters to Catherine, wanting them to be like her and hoping they have her spunk.
Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman is a fantastic Middle Grade novel that is not only enjoyable and fun, but an interesting and educational look at medieval life, the perfect combination!
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