Today we review Kimberly Cutter’s exciting historical fiction debut. Although Joan of Arc’s story has been told many times before, Cutter’s telling is particularly accessible, dramatic, and exciting for modern audiences. Jehanne is an uneducated, young teenager growing up in a small French village, and we experience her story from the beginning, from her point of view. The murder of her sister, living with an abusive, unpredictable father, and her first communications with the Saints are vividly communicated. Hers is a visceral, violent world. She is full of conviction, but not immune to doubt and fear. She’s human.
The writing style could be considered a bit flowery and melodramatic, but that is a matter of taste. Cutter is quite a storyteller. She makes us care about this historic figure, even as we grimace and wish we could look away from all she suffered so willingly. The Maid is as likely to appeal to readers of thrillers (for its fast pace) and psychological drama as to historical fiction fans.
The rawness of the telling reserves this one for mature teens in my estimation, but it certainly brings the past to life.
Adult/High School–From almost the first page, two things become clear: young Joan, even as a battered and abused child, is special; and her religious fervor is very, very real. She suffers immensely at the hands of her peasant father, an unwanted burden he attempts to foist off on the highest bidder for marriage. But Joan is having none of it. She endures the abuse because she senses that her faith will bring her something better. When her salvation arrives in the form of her three saints, whose advice guides her every move, Joan quickly decides to abandon her family and follow their instructions. What follows is an excellent adventure novel that, amazingly, touches most of the bases of this incredible young militant’s life–her accurate read of the tide of battles, her vision of a major wound she suffers in battle, her survival from the plunge off a nearly 70-foot tower, unscathed. Joan even correctly predicts the timing of her own death long after her saints abandon her. Teens will be cheering the rise of this illiterate, painfully poor young girl from obscurity to world-wide renown. Even those who know how the story ends will find themselves hoping that history will somehow be changed by the end.–Caroline Bartels, Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY