The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman

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Summary

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Midwife's Apprentice is a deft historical novel of medieval England in which an impoverished girl hopelessly circumstanced becomes a worthy young adult learning the skills, craft, and lore of midwifery—for centuries a profession of critical importance for women about to give birth before medical doctors began to deliver babies. She achieves her position through courage, hard work, a feeling heart, and the ability to transform chance encounters into self-knowledge. The novel vividly depicts its historical period while engaging readers with a heartfelt story, one which should movingly appeal to a wide range of sensitive young adults. This emotional engagement is deeper than just the response to a colorful tale well-told; it is enriched because the novel illuminates universal truths of a kind young readers yearn to embrace.

Young people, no matter how socially disadvantaged and unloved, can improve the state of their lives and the quality of their characters if they summon up the will, resolve, courage, and confidence to face up to their shortcomings and the bitter thoughts feeling a failure brings. Responsibility must be accepted before self-reliance can be achieved, and self-reliance is the bedrock upon which sound lives are built. Enlightened self-reliance is more than just brute tenacity however; it must be graced with compassion for others, tempered with an awareness of the importance of kindness, and informed by a sense of how critical little words and gestures are in helping others overcome their doubts. Compassion nurtures civility, civility cements community, and community is ultimately what all young people desire and need.

When readers leave the heroine at the close of The Midwife's Apprentice, they see how far she has come through the exercise of these qualities and through being responsive to them when offered by others. She has faced the doubts of others and self-doubt, and she has won the respect of others and self-respect. She has much to learn and endure yet, but she has created her opportunity and is sure to make the most of it.