cover image The Book of the Maidservant

The Book of the Maidservant

Rebecca Barnhouse. Random, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-85856-7

Inspired by the life of the medieval religious mystic Margery Kempe, first-time novelist Barnhouse imagines the life of the maidservant who accompanied her on a pilgrimage from Lynn, England, to Rome. Thirteen-year-old Johanna has been hired out to Dame Margery, who hears the Lord's voice and feels the Virgin Mary's suffering so deeply that it brings her to daily bouts of weeping. A likeable and believable narrator, Johanna also suffers%E2%80%94with aching longings for her family and their life together%E2%80%94but does her best to serve her ill-tempered mistress and to endure the hardships of the pilgrimage. These prove especially harsh, as she finds herself obliged to serve the other pilgrims, as well: a varied lot of holy and not-so-holy characters, including a warmhearted university student on whom she develops a crush. Maintaining her fortitude and fighting her homesickness are Johanna's greatest ordeals, until she suddenly must flee alone to Rome and the drama quickens. Barnhouse adeptly weaves the gritty details of medieval life into an engaging, adventure-filled story. Ages 10%E2%80%9413. (Oct.)