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The Book of the Maidservant by Rebecca…

The Book of the Maidservant (2009)

by Rebecca Barnhouse

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Really enjoyed this one, especially the character of Johanna and the historical details. I found my chest getting tight and my shoulders tensing as I read, out of sympathy for Johanna and my anger at Margery and some of the other characters. I don't actually know when I've been more furious with a fictional character (or in this case a based-on-historical character). In some ways that made this an uncomfortable book to read, but also a rewarding one, and I cheered wholeheartedly at the end.

I'm very much looking forward to more from Rebecca Barnhouse!
  devafagan | Jan 2, 2015 |
inspired by The Book of Margery Kempe, the first autobiography in English; many references to Mary and other Catholic beliefs so might have an audience with the parochial students. It didn't grab me and I like this time in history, maybe another day. ( )
  lindap69 | Apr 5, 2013 |
{ Full review originally posted on my blog, PidginPea's Book Nook. }

I wasn't sure what to expect from The Book of the Maidservant, but the wonderful writing and the swiftly moving plot sucked me in from the very beginning and didn't let me go. The action builds rapidly as Johanna finds herself facing one adventure after another, meeting wonderful friends and terrible enemies along the way.

I'm not very familiar with medieval history, but Barnhouse definitely brought the time period alive. You can see and hear and smell everything right along with Johanna, both the good and the bad. As Johanna travels with the pilgrims, you get to experience medieval Europe through the eyes of a young girl, who must serve the party but still tries to preserve her own independence as much as she can.

Johanna struggles with her faith throughout the book in very realistic and age-appropriate ways. In a world and time where being a good and devout Christian is of great importance, she tries hard to keep her thoughts and actions kind, despite the many injustices being done to her. As she gets into increasingly difficult situations, she starts to feel like God and the saints have abandoned her. As she deals with all of this, the book never feels preachy. It simply allows you in to Johanna's thoughts as she tries to figure things out on her own.

The Book of the Maidservant was one of the best books I've read in a while. It's a wonderful work of middle grade historical fiction: realistic and educational while remaining very interesting and relatable. ( )
1 vote PidginPea | Jul 21, 2012 |
In this historical fiction work set in 15th Century Europe, Johanna serves as a maidservant to Dame Margery Kempe, a holy woman given to fits of religious passion, who, despite her great piety, mistreats her servants. When Dame Margery decides to go on a pilgrimage to Rome, she takes Johanna with her, and after a dangerous journey full of conflicts, abandons Johanna in Venice. Without speaking the local language, any money, or any idea of how to return to England, Johanna must find a way to survive on her own.

The narrative is packed with small details about Medieval life, so Johanna's story conveys a fully-realized picture of the 15th Century, and the well developed setting makes Johanna's character, situation and danger believable. Johanna is an engaging narrator, and a great strength of this book is her character development, for as the journey progresses, Johanna transforms from an angry, but timid, servant to a resourceful woman who is able to confront both her own personal demons and the mistress who mistreated her. A wonderful scene near the end of the novel conveys the extent of Johanna's growth as she admits/realizes that she has been deceiving herself about the circumstances that brought her to be in Margery's employ, and that the person she has cast as the villain in her life is not at all the one responsible for her misfortune. As the author's note explains, the character of Dame Margery is based on a real person, who is known because she is the author of the first English autobiography, and while fiction, much of the story is based on Dame Margery's account as well as those of other pilgrims. The reader, however, does not need to be familiar with the historical context to appreciate the story, and this book would be enjoyed by high school age readers. ( )
  frood42 | Dec 15, 2010 |
“My mistress says you mustn’t stare into the fire lest the devil look out at you from the flames. ‘He’ll see into your soul,’ she says.” So begins the story of Johanna, serving girl to Dame Margery Kempe, a woman known for her religious fervor. Forced to accompany her mistress on a pilgrimage to Rome, Johanna experiences the difficulties of medieval travel – bug-infested bedding, blistering feet, rain-soaked clothing, moldy food. Through a series of events including being abandoned by her mistress, Johanna makes her way to Rome, maturing along the way. In Rome, Johanna finds acceptance and companionship where she least expected it. Barnhouse’s vivid portrayal of medieval life sets the stage for this story of hardship and personal growth. As the author’s note states, Barnhouse created Johanna out of a fascination with the maligned maidservant portrayed in Dame Margery Kempe’s autobiography. In telling the story from this new perspective, Barnhouse has created a strong-willed, hard-working female character that will inspire adolescent girls with her fiery personality. While Johanna is at times whiny, I don't think that we can discredit her as a wimpy character. Many teenage girls portrayed in juvenile and young adult fiction have similar character traits that can grate on the nerves of the reader while simultaneously creating a character that the reader can relate to.
1 vote ReadingFanatic09 | Oct 4, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rebecca Barnhouseprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Duerden, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375858563, Hardcover)

“A funny and wise book about friendship, loyalty, and love.”—Karen Cushman

Johanna is a servant girl to Dame Margery Kempe, a renowned medieval holy woman. Dame Margery feels the suffering the Virgin Mary felt for her son but cares little for the misery she sees every day. When she announces that Johanna will accompany her on a pilgrimage to Rome, the suffering truly begins. After walking all day, Johanna must fetch water, wash clothes, and cook for the entire party of pilgrims. Then arguing breaks out between Dame Margery and the other travelers, and Johanna is caught in the middle. As the fighting escalates, Dame Margery turns her back on the whole group, including Johanna. Abandoned in a foreign land where she doesn’t even speak the language, the young maidservant must find her own way to Rome.

Inspired by the fifteenth-century text The Book of Margery Kempe, the first autobiography in English, debut novelist Rebecca Barnhouse chronicles Johanna’s painful journey through fear, anger, and physical hardship to ultimate redemption.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:16 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In 1413, a young maidservant accompanies her deeply religious mistress, Dame Margery Kempe, on a pilgrimage to Rome. Includes author's note on Kempe, writer of "The Book of Margery Kempe," considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language.… (more)

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