Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Book of the Maidservant

Title:               The Book of the Maidservant
Category:       Historical
Grade:            13-17
Author:          Rebecca Barnhouse
Publisher:       Random House
Place:              New York
Date:               2009
Pages:             229

The Book of the Maidservant follows Johanna, a lowly serving girl, on a pilgrimage with her tyrannical and obnoxiously pious mistress.  Fighting within the company of pilgrims eventually lead to Dame Margery’s forced removal from the group, but Johanna is not allowed to accompany her.  Forced to slave for the remaining pilgrims, Johanna keeps a careful watch for her mistress, and is eventually reunited with her.  Her joy is short-lived when she discovers her mistress has not only abandoned her again, but stolen her few possessions.  Making her own perilous way to Rome, Johanna finally finds friendly employment at a pilgrim’s hostel, but when her mistress arrives, Johanna must decide if she will allow herself to be made a servant again and return to her beloved home, or remain in a strange land as an independent young woman. 

Extremely well told, Barnhouse creates a tale reminiscent of Catherine, Called Birdy, yet with the sophistication of storytelling that teens will appreciate. Teens will also be able to relate to Johanna’s struggle to be recognized as a worthwhile human being and her final decision with no easy answer.


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