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The Book of the Maidservant (2009)

by Rebecca Barnhouse

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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12210228,554 (3.3)13
Juvenile Fiction. Juvenile Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:“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...
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» See also 13 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Margery Kempe's memoir has become a standard syllabus inclusion for feminist literature courses. Well-off but not noble, Margery bore 14 children before claiming to have had a vision of Christ telling her to become abstinent. She got her husband to comply by paying off his debts. As her visions increased, so did her hysterical crying when she experienced them. Some claim this was a ploy for public attention, but others believe that she was a true visionary. Although she was illiterate, she dictated her quite fascinating memoir The Book of Margery Kempe, to a scribe.

[The Book of the Maidservant] is just that: the story of the maid who accompanied Kempe on her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Kempe had been warned that her maid would cause her trouble, and perhaps, from her point of view, she did. But according to Barnhouse's novel, the maidservant (here named Joanna) suffered considerable trials of her own along the way, including harsh treatment by Kempe, continuing harassment from a would-be rapist, being taken advantage of other pilgrims who loaded her with more and more work, and getting lost and separated from her mistress in Rome. Kempe does not come off well here: Barnhouse obviously adheres to the opinion that Margery was an ambitious, indulged woman who broke the rules of medieval English society and used religion as a way to exalt her status and to get her own way. Nevertheless, her novel is an engaging look into the customs and class structure of the times, and Joanna is a very likable, if somewhat hapless, character. She creates a solid picture of what these pilgrimages must have been like, especially for those who, like Joanna, had no choice but to make them. ( )
  Cariola | Oct 20, 2017 |
This book was lovely, and became even more so when I read the author's note at the end. It's based on The Book of Margery Kempe, the first autobiography in English, which details Kempe's religious pilgrimages. When she read that book, Rebecca Barnhouse paid attention to how Kempe described her maidservant and thought it sounded a little fishy. This is the part I love—that Barnhouse was able to see through Kempe's own words and imagine what Kempe was like from the maid's perspective. Johanna is a likable narrator and her story is at times so painful and frustrating that I just kept wishing, over and over, that the next sentence would have her hauling back and punching certain characters right in the face.

For me, the description of life in the fifteenth century was wonderful and so fascinating to read. And unlike many other YA books I've read, this one is very well-written; I loved the style, and didn't have to keep reminding myself, "it's written for kids, it's written for kids" (*cough*Rick Riordan*cough*). I loved the chance to see what the life of a young girl in Europe in the 1400s was like.
  mirikayla | Feb 8, 2016 |
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 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rebecca Barnhouseprimary authorall editionscalculated
Duerden, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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My mistress says you mustn't stare into the fire lest the devil look out at you from the flames.
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Juvenile Fiction. Juvenile Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:“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...

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