This historical adventure book by Catherine Jinks is published by Candlewick Press and is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
In 1227, 16-year-old Babylonne lives in Toulouse, France, with her grandmother, abusive Aunt Navarre and several other women of the Cathar faith. During this violent period in history, Babylonne's devout order strives to avoid French persecution and skirt-chasing, gluttonous Roman priests. When Aunt Navarre decides to marry Babylonne off to a crazy old man, the girl runs away with the intention of serving exiled knights battling the king of France. While escaping, she meets a Roman priest (Father Isidore) who says he knew and loved her father, Pagan. Babylonne has always been told that Pagan was a vile priest, who raped her mother, so she's skeptical of Isidore's claims about Pagan's goodness and her parents' mutual love. She can't imagine Isidore's motives toward her are pure either, but he's intent on journeying with her to keep her safe, and she knows she needs his help. Along the way, Isidore's repeated messages of hope begin to penetrate Babylonne's bitter heart. She spends part of the trip disguised as a boy, but she's recognized and captured to be returned to Aunt Navarre. Isidore finds and rescues Babylonne just as the French are attacking the village in which she's imprisoned
Babylonne prays for Isidore's safety and asks God to help her escape treacherous situations. She likes the city of Toulouse, so she calls it her spiritual home. The Cathar order, of which Babylonne is part, is pious, and its members abstain from numerous things, including cheese and eggs, because they are products of fornication. They also engage in long prayer rituals. Babylonne frequently says scathing words about Roman priests, particularly in reference to their gluttony and lust for women. Whenever Babylonne sees something beautiful, she says it's hard to believe such things could exist in a God-forsaken world. Isidore swears on the life of the Holy Virgin that he won't touch Babylonne sexually, but she says that doesn't mean much. She says he probably knows all of the Holy Scriptures, even the bad parts that aren't holy at all. She blames the Roman Church for sending French knights to kill all the "good Christians," those with her same beliefs, in the name of a false god. Isidore and a prefect named Gui have a lengthy debate about the apostle Paul's words on eating and drinking. They also discuss whether the world is the Devil's realm or God's, and they quote a number of Scriptures. Isidore's arguments convince Babylonne that perhaps the negative, legalistic teaching she grew up with is not the true path God intends for man. When Isidore and Babylonne are reunited, he tells her he prayed every night that he would find her and now he has, by God's mercy.
Aunt Navarre, who leads Babylonne's order, is brutally abusive to Babylonne, physically and emotionally. She often calls her a b--tard and a whore (among other names), smacks her across the face with a broom, bangs her head against the house's stone wall and locks her in a small trunk. The Roman priests, rather than demonstrating a godly posture, have earned themselves a reputation of being liars, murderers and lechers. It appears that Father Isidore and the red-haired priest (another man who knew and revered Pagan) are the only men who treat Babylonne with respect and without a sexual agenda. Father Isidore's devotion to her and his expressions of his belief that God has put good and beauty in the world opens her eyes to a life she finds worth living.
Other Belief Systems
Babylonne and others (including the priests) frequently hope for good luck. She tells herself an ongoing fantasy story about sorcerers and princesses. It's her way of using her imagination to obtain a small measure of happiness.
The words whore, fart, b--ch, p---, crap, balls, a--, h--- and d---, (including d--- him to h---) appear frequently. Babylonne is often called a b--tard because she was conceived out of wedlock. God's name taken in vain is common in Babylonne's often-vulgar narration and dialogue. Babylonne accidentally kills a chicken by strangling it while trying to steal an egg. Several gruesome and bloody scenes describe bodies cut open, faces scraped off, amputations, blood-soaked guts coming out of a body, vomit-covered floors and eyes gouged out. Babylonne describes the open, seeping scabs and sores on a man's face. She says she'd like to see a particular man's brains boil and his flesh hanging from him in ribbons.
Babylonne talks throughout the book about men lifting women's skirts, chasing them, talking about bedding them, pinching their bottoms, making lewd sounds and gestures and otherwise taking advantage of them in any way they can. According to Babylonne, most priests are at least as lascivious as common men, but they're a little more subtle. Babylonne says everyone knows the priests don't wear undergarments. She initially distrusts the red-haired priest and Isidore, and she repeatedly tells them she's no one's whore and assumes they mean to take advantage of her. Other girls in Babylonne's order tell her the man she's to marry is too old to have sex so she won't have to be guilty of the sin of fornication. Babylonne has always been told she was born out of rape, but Father Isidore says her mother and the priest were deeply in love when she was conceived. A man on a pilgrimage invites two women to sleep in his bed. Women in the village where Babylonne stays make sexual jokes, and Babylonne walks in on one of them with her legs wrapped around a man. A drunken man, just one of several who tries to take sexual liberties with Babylonne, is thwarted when a commanding officer orders him back to his post.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What has Aunt Navarre taught Babylonne about the world? Does Babylonne believe there's any good in the world? What does she think about herself? How do her thoughts change after she meets Isidore? What does he think about the world, and what does he tell her?
- What do Babylonne and Isidore do to keep Babylonne safe? Is it ever OK to lie? What does the Bible say about lying?
- Why does Babylonne feel the need to dress like a boy? Why and how is Isidore different than the other men she knows?
- What does Babylonne initially believe is required to get close to God?
What does she learn from listening to Isidore's theological discussion with Gui, the prefect? What does she believe will happen to her if she dies?
- Why does Babylonne scoff at the woman who is worshiping with amulets and relics? Is it wrong to worship that way? Why or why not? What does Isidore tell Babylonne to keep her from judging this woman's worship methods? Do you know anyone who worships in a different way than you do? How can you tell if another way of worshiping is actually wrong or just different from yours?
- How do most of the men and a few of the women in this book treat the opposite sex? How do they choose their words? Is it OK to make lewd and sexual comments? What does the Bible say about the kind of thoughts we should dwell on? What about the kind of talk that should come out of our mouths?
- What fairytale does Babylonne make up in her head about herself? How does it change as the story goes on? What does she ultimately decide she wants out of life?
- How do Isidore's behavior and personality win Babylonne over, despite her long-time hatred of Roman priests? What were some characteristics of Isidore that inspire Babylonne to be a better person? Which of these characteristics could you adopt to demonstrate Christ to others?
- What would you think of Babylonne if you had met her at the beginning of the story? Did she seem like a nice person? Would you have wanted to be her friend? Why or why not? How would you have reacted to her hostility and vulgarity?
- What does Babylonne believe to be true about her parents? What does she learn later on? How do you think you'd feel if you never knew your parents?
Note: Lying: At the beginning of the book, Babylonne steals an egg from Roman priests and then lies about it to Aunt Navarre. When she's caught, she's not allowed to speak for three days because Navarre believes she is cursed with the venom of deceit. Father Isidore and Babylonne lie to keep Babylonne's identity a secret. Alcohol: Wine flows freely in the story. Isidore gives it to Babylonne several times. Value of life: A paragraph in the first chapter tells how Babylonne looks for an egg and accidentally kills a chicken. In her defense, she explains how a person can't kill an egg because it's not alive. And even if the egg had been fertilized, the world belongs to the Devil, so making sure the egg doesn't hatch is actually doing the unborn chicken a favor.
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