TeenLit Book Reviews

October 2000

Catherine Called Birdy

Karen Cushman

Catherine Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman, takes place in the Middle Ages in A.D. 1290. The setting is the Village of Stonebridge, outside of London, England. It is the story of 14 year- old Catherine whose diary writings tell the story of her wish to be free of the suitors who her abusive father has chosen for her to marry. As the story develops, so does her keen, funny and disrespectful sense of humor. This is clearly needed as she tries dismiss suitors that she would never choose for herself. In the end she is content being herself and finds an acceptable man to marry. She continues to wish, and feels that she has wings and freedom, even if she never leaves home. The main character, Catherine, sees herself as a “plain gray and brown goose”(Cushman, 31). In deciding what “birdy” best describes her she says “I think I love geese more that any other birds because no one else does. They are not small and delicate like larks and sparrows, or swift and clever like hawks and falcons. They do not sing like nightingales, and cannot be trained to talk, or dance, or do tricks. They are cunning, greedy, shortsighted, and stubborn--much like me, now that I think on it.” (Cushman, 30). Her goal is to be different from other girls of her time. She wants to choose her own husband, and stop pursuing traditional girl’s roles, which she feels will not allow her to be comfortable with herself. Her biggest obstacle is carving out a unique identity free from the control of her father. She resolves this challenge by developing a better understanding of herself and learning that she doesn’t have to leave home to be free. She is able to hear this from the fortuneteller Madame Joanna who tells Catherine “You are lucky. Little Bird, for you have wings, but you must learn to master them. Look at the baron’s hawk there on her perch. Just because she doesn’t flap her wings all the time, doesn’t mean she can't fly” (Cushman, 104-105). Another challenge for Catherine is to find a safe way to express her feelings in a society where women are not outwardly emotional. She is able to do this by complaining to her diary. The reader learns about how medieval life is defined by social roles based on economic class and i