MATILDA BONE by Karen Cushman


Age Range: 10 - 14
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In a carefully researched novel set in the medieval period, the author of The Midwife’s Apprentice (1996 Newbery winner) depicts another vivid heroine, left alone to make her place in the world. Having been raised motherless in a fine manor under the tutelage of Father Leufredus, Matilda has learned to read and write Greek and Latin and to pray seven times a day. When the priest leaves her with Red Peg, the bonesetter in Blood and Bone Alley, Matilda disapproves of her new home, her new “mentor” and the requirements of her new job . . . which include tending the fire, cooking, restraining patients, and helping set bones rather than reading, writing, and praying. Gradually Matilda sees the truth: that Father Leufredus will never return, that he never spoke of God’s love, and that she was lonely in her former home. She acknowledges the goodness of those who make up her new community, especially the strong women like Peg, with their clever fingers and common sense, whose lives are hard but who laugh more than they frown . . . women who contrast with the men whom Matilda has been conditioned to hold in deference. At the conclusion Matilda comes to terms with the fact that she cannot predict her own future but “. . . whatever it was she believed she could do.” This has much to commend it: a robust setting, the author’s deft way with imagery (Peg’s decent face is “beslobbered with freckles”) and an impressive command of medieval medical detail. It is laced with humor, in part due to the structural connective tissue formed by the saint’s scornful answers to Matilda’s unceasing prayerful pleas. But in the end, Matilda herself comes off, as the saints themselves conclude, as a rather tiresome prig whose journey towards self-discovery, while rich in incident, may not hold quite enough overall plot tension to compel every reader. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2000
ISBN: 0-395-88156-0
Page count: 166pp
Publisher: Clarion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2000


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