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Monday, December 31, 2007

Two more good books by Karen Cushman

I have previously posted on two books by Karen Cushman, Newbery winner, and Newbery Honor winner.

I have been privileged to read two more of her young adult novels. One of these is Catherine, Called Birdy (New York: Clarion, 1994). As in the books previously read, the protagonist is a girl in her early teen years. In this book, which is set in 1290 AD, in England, Catherine is the daughter of the Lord of a manor. As such, she has some privileges -- for example, she can read, and has her own room, although she shares it with a servant and, often, with guests. She is aware that the villagers lack the privileges that she does.

The book is written as a journal, and each entry begins with an excerpt from a book of saints, indicating which saint is honored on the particular day, and why they are honored. Some of this is serious, and some is simply hilarious. Cushman ends the book with an Author's Note, in which she indicates that she has tried to look at time in the same way a person living in 1290 would have. If she is correct, they looked at days according to their religious significance, and, of course, according to the agricultural season.

Catherine, Called Birdy gives the reader a feel for the Middle Ages, complete with privies and fleas, and illnesses that can't be cured. It is depressing, but yet uplifting. Cushman has done her usual good job. Birdy does examine her faith in the book, but that's not the major thrust of the author.

The second book is more depressing, because it is written about Los Angeles in the middle of the 20th century. The theme is lack of tolerance. Francine Green, of The Loud Silence of Francine Green (New York: Clarion, 2006) is a student in the upper grades of a Catholic girls' school. The major intolerance is toward perceived communism, but the book is more subtle than that. The characters all see that Russian communism is bad, but some of them enthusiastically climb on Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist bandwagon. Some of them, including Francine's friends, are grievously hurt by this sort of thinking.

There is also intolerance of independent thinking. Francine is silent, too silent. She doesn't speak up when she should, and she becomes convicted, in her own mind, of sinning by omission.

As I say, this is a depressing book, but the issues are real, and individual Christians, and the church as a whole, walk an uncertain line between tolerating independent thinking and rejecting thinking that isn't like ours. Thinking about that is good for us. It's a good book.

Thanks for reading.

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