The Midwife's Apprentice: Karen Cushman

Tori's Review

I have to admit, as I began the The Midwife's Apprentice, I was a bit leery. Within the first chapter, readers meet Alyce, an orphan child who is forced to sleep in a dung heap to keep warm. Sadly, she is awoken by a group of horrid boys and a grown woman who kicks her in the stomach. However, after finishing the story, I applaud Karen Cushman for her grim introduction of the Alyce and the villagers.

A ridiculously simplified synopsis, to quote Shelfari, would be to say, this is the story of an orphan girl's quest for identity and belonging in a harsh environment. In typical quest for identity novels, the antagonist at least begins the story with a bit of self-knowledge. At the beginning, Alyce has no name, no recollection of family and no name. In fact, the name Beetle is given to her due to her choice of sleeping locations.

Readers travel with Alyce through a year of self-discovery in Medievil England. This voyage is rather cut and dry. First she is given a home and job as the Midwife's apprentice. Then, she choses her name, Alyce. Third, she happens upon an orphan boy and points him in the right direction, essentially forming a family for herself. Most importantly, she runs from everything that has come to be meaningful to her thus giving her a chance to reflect upon her life and see where she belongs. Lastly, Alyce makes her decision and chooses her rightful place in the world.
This list is quite simple because the story itself is rather simple. I do not say this to be taken negatively. The simplification of the storyline, in my opinion, allows the printed book to be a mere 117 pages thus attracting the apprehensive reader with it's size. Densely packed, the reader will then receive a valuable lesson in the value self-identity, the importance of a strong will as well as a brief history lesson.

I must warn parents, just as the title says, Alyce is in fact a midwife's apprentice. She helps with expecting mother in labor. If this is not a sensitive topic, however, I strongly suggest this story to girls between the ages of eight and twelve.

1996 Newbery Medal Award
IL: MG - BL: 6.0 - AR Pts: 3.0
Karen Cushman on Amazon

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