Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman is the story of a young girl in 12th-century England. Left by the monk who raised her at Peg the Bonesetter’s shop, Matilda finds her new life dirty, unholy, and lonely. Her knowledge of Latin and religion is of little use amidst the stinking, loud messes of town life. As she waits for Father Leufredus’s return, Matilda learns about healing of the body-and of her own heart.
…Matilda once again called for heavenly assistance: Dear Saint Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, I do not like it here at the bonesetter’s, where it is cold and dark as a tomb. I pray you rescue me.
My child, she heard the saint replying, I understand your unhappiness, for I too was left in a cold, dark tomb. Of course, I was dead. Have courage. (p. 8)
[Peg says:] “By Saint Kentigern’s Salmon, you are so priest-ridden that one might think you have nothing of your own to say.”
Of course I do, thought Matilda. But I try not to say it. Father Leufredus wished her to subdue her will to God’s. And to his. And she struggled to do so. (p. 39)
This was my second read through of Matilda Bone and I enjoyed it even more this time. The protagonist has a clear character arc that is delightful to watch unfold amidst the colorful setting of Medieval medicine.
There is plenty of humor too. Aside from the comedy that ensues from the disparity between Matilda’s past and current circumstances, I found her conversations with the saints hilarious.
Cushman weaves purpose into every detail so that readers are immersed in the time period. Matilda’s relationship to the church through Father Leufredus illustrates a lot about the church’s control of religion at the time. I love how Matilda learns to think for herself. I love the fact that her prayers change but do not cease. With Peg’s care and the friendship of others, Matilda learns that loving others will not make her unfit for higher things, but that loving others is itself a higher thing.