Teenage twins Kit and Christy have grown up amid grinding poverty in their Essex village. As Christy has been "simple" from birth, Kit is literally his brother's keeper. But the latest hardships visited upon their country home by the Great Frost of 1683–84 bring Kit to frustration and despair, and he abandons Christy to make his way to London, seeking to better himself. There he finds work as an apprentice to a struggling artist and much else to take his mind off what he has left behind. But the time comes when he can no longer ignore the problem of his brother.
A fascinating portrait of a young person struggling to balance family and freedom, The Brothers Story is also a frank depiction of Restoration London in its bawdy, raucous glory.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|File size:||279 KB|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
KATHERINE STURTEVANT has previously written At the Sign of the Star, a Booklist Editors' Choice, and its sequel, A True and Faithful Narrative, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, among other accolades. The author lives in Berkeley, California.
I grew up in California’s Santa Clara Valley. When we moved there I was five years old, and the valley was filled with fruit orchards. The house I lived in was a big, eccentric place, built in part by my father and his friends. It had a huge brick fireplace, a screened-in porch where we ate and sometimes slept in summer, a "secret" recess in one of the bedrooms where Easter nests were always hidden, and dozens of built-in bookshelves. The house sat on three acres of land dotted with fruit trees and outbuildings. I had a dozen favorite places to lie reading.
I come from a book-loving family. My grandmother worked at the Library of Congress during the 1940s and later owned an antiquarian bookshop. My mother was a school librarian for many years and always brought home wonderfully written stories, many of them set in other eras.
I was a writer from an early age. I wrote stories, poems, and plays; I wrote them for school and I wrote them on summer vacation. My grandmother gave me a portable typewriter for Christmas when I was twelve. After that, it traveled with me on every camping trip we took. I would sit at a picnic table, under evergreens, and turn our humdrum vacations into tales of heroic rescues or martyred pets.
By the time I was in high school, the fruit orchards in the valley had given way to housing tracts and electronics plants. One night, when I was sixteen years old, our big funny house burned to the ground. A few days later we walked through the rubble to see what could be salvaged. Little remained: the remnants of the stove, the piano keys, and hundreds and hundreds of scorched books strewn among the ashes.
So the place I grew up in is now gone. Of course, so are many of my favorite places, including colonial Boston, biblical Palestine, and Restoration London. But the books I read when I was growing up are still with me, and will be with me forever. KATHERINE STURTEVANT studied creative writing at San Francisco State University, where she received her B.A. in 1976 and her M.A. in 1993. Her articles and reviews have been published in The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury-News, The Willamette Week, and Calyx. She lives in Berkeley with her husband, her twin sons, and two Maine Coon cats.
Read an Excerpt
1 THE MOMENT I woke that morning I knowed that the .rewood was at a end, for the cottage was painful cold. I sat up and began to rub my feet with my hands, but my sitting pulled the blanket from my twin, Christy, who shared it with me, and he sat hisself up as well.
“Awful cold, Kit,” he said to me.
“Ye think so?” I answered him.
“My feet ache terrible.”
“Rub ’em, same as I’m doing, see?”
He set to rubbing, but his ouching soon woke Mam and Michael, who was huddled together neath the other blanket. We had all fell asleep on our pallets near to the .reside the night before.
Mam stared into the ash and said, “The wood’s gone, an’t it?”
Her hair was tangled, and her mouth was lacking a good many teeth, and she sounded scared. She was scared most of the time these days, except when her fear bubbled over like a pot does, and turned her to angry hissing.
“It’s gone,” I agreed as I pushed my stockinged feet into my shoes.
Little Michael set into whimpering, and Mam wrapped her arms around him to give him warmth.
“Well, what’s to be done?” she asked me, and her voice was sharp.
I’d have liked to turn the question on her, for she was the parent; I was just .fteen. But who else was she to ask? Dad was dead, and Michael was three years old, and Christy was simple. It was Mam and me together who kept things going.
“I’m thinking on it,” I answered her. “But I’d think better with something in my belly. An’t there some porridge left from last night?”
There was. It was more colder than clay and had about the same feel to it, but anyways it wasn’t raw. I had to make myself eat it, and I made Christy eat it, too.
“I an’t hungry,” he said, puckering his face up at the nasty stuff.
“Eat it, ye dolt. Food helps to keep the chill out.”
So he ate his share of porridge, and Mam did, but we could not make Michael touch his. “Nasty!” he said, and began to cry.
But I pulled him onto my shoulders for a piggyback ride, and soon he was laughing his shrill, hoarse laugh and near pulling my hair out.
Mam stayed fretful. “He must eat!” she said. “And we must have wood to burn, else we’ll die, every one of us, here by this cold, cursed hearth!”
“An’t there anything we can put to pawn?” I asked as I slid Michael off my back. I looked round the room, but I wasn’t thinking of the things I saw—the tabletop on its trestles, the benches and stools and such—but of the nicer things we had when Dad was alive and worked steady on the land. Things was different then. He meant for me to rise in life. He taught me to keep a tally with a piece of chalk upon a wooden table, and later I was bought a hornbook and sent to a woman to learn my letters and my numbers. I got them so quick, and did so well with my primer, that she told my father I was uncommon apt, and said I ought to be sent to a master to learn true reading, and to study writing, sums, and Latin. But before it could happen my dad was took off by the same fever what killed my sister, Jane, and after that our fortunes turned. Just Mam and me was .t to work when there was work to be had, and of course someone must look after Christy and Michael. We sold the cow and the chickens, and put the nice things to pawn, but at last we had no choice but to go on the parish. Then the overseers gave us something for rent and food and .rewood, but in wintertime it was only by begging and borrowing that we got by.
“Something to pawn! Of course there an’t, ye dolt!” Mam said to me.
So I knowed the pot had boiled over.
“I’d like to pawn yer clothes, and his, too!” she kept on. “I’d pawn yer brains if ye had any. Ye’re both about as useful to me as worms to a dog.”
I clenched my jaw to keep from saying things a son must not. I couldn’t abide it when she put Christy and me together that way. Anyone could see that he was simple and I was not, though ’twas the only difference between us. Our faces was just alike and we had even the same name, both called Christopher on the expectation that one of us would die—him, most likely. When he didn’t, they called him Christy and me Kit to make a difference between us.
And it rankled me to hear her say I was not useful—me, who worked on the land whenever I could, and brung my pennies home to Mam like a son ought to do. I was the one who went to market and the one who fetched the ale, ’twas me who stood on the table that I might hang a bag of cheese or barley from the rafters where the rats could not get it, and me who gathered kindling enough to last us through the winter—only I’d not reckoned on it getting so cold. There was hardly any left: a handful of axe chips, some holly, and a piece of tree root. The dried moss we used for tinder was gone entirely.
That reminded me there was some justice in Mam’s anger, but I could not keep myself from saying, “If I’m no use to ye here I could go to live in London.”
“Oh, ye’re always wishing for London,” Mam answered me. “Essex an’t good enough for ye, I reckon.”
“I’m wishing for work is all! I’m wishing to put some .re in the chimney and some gloves on our hands and a decent meal in our bellies instead of a trickle of porridge night after night!”
“Well, ye’re not in London, anyways.”
After that we didn’t speak for a piece. Mam went on murmuring to Michael, and Christy snuf.ed, and I sat shoulder to shoulder with him so’s the blanket would reach around us. Praise God we was both thin as thread, though we was tall. I thought about all the boys I knowed who had gone to London; girls, too, sometimes. Martin Hinde and John Early and Margaret Cole had all gone within a twelvemonth, and Robert Reade and Tristram Kershaw and John Hoby before that. And they was only the ones from our village. Seemed like half of England was making its way to London Town, where there was work to be had, and passing me by to do it. I’d have gone, too, if not for Christy.
I tried to picture that great city .lled with working boys: boys in livery and boys in aprons, carrying lanterns or carrying letters, swatting .ies or sweeping up turds. Boys running to and fro making all things right for their masters. And prentices, too, up before dawn to help the brewers and bakers, and the tailors and goldsmiths, for that matter. I thought of them with envy, wondering could a boy like me ever rise so high. Nicholas Lawrence was prenticed to a cooper in Chelmsford, and it cost his parents .ve pounds for his premium. Five pounds. I didn’t reckon I’d ever see so much money at one time.
“Ye an’t going to go to London, are ye, Kit?” Christy asked me.
“What did I say last time ye asked me?”
“Well, it’s still nay.” I stood up. “I’m going to the tavern, is where I’m going, to see if anyone’s hiring.”
I thought Mam would argufy, for we both knowed no one would be hiring today. But instead she quit rubbing Michael’s arms and kissing his curls and looked up at me—eager as a dog, but cunning as a cat.
“Aye, go, Kit,” she said. “Take Christy with ye, and have another look round for .rewood whilst ye’re out. Maybe ye’ll .nd a bit of brush or a branch what’s been overlooked.”
I stared. “Why, Mam, there an’t a bit of unclaimed fuel for miles.” “We must have wood, else we’ll perish. If there’s none to be found, ye must get it another way.” I knowed what was coming, and I could feel obstinancy breaking out like a rash on my face.
“Ye must .nd us a little charity, Kit.”
“We’ve already took as much as can be spared by our neighbors.” “’Tis the season for giving.” “And they’ve gave all they could.” “Not Mr. Dean.” It vexed me that she said his name, for she’d promised she’d
not ask me to go to him again till a month was past. We ’d took a goodly amount of charity from Mr. Dean, some of it as lately as Sunday last. He gave more than I asked for that day, and told me it must last us till the new year, and I promised him it would. But they was charging for .rewood like it was Indian calico, and though it was lacking more than a week till Christmas we was without again.
“It an’t right to ask Mr. Dean for more, after everything he’s gave us.” “What’s a few pennies to him, when he has .rewood enough to burn down the countryside?”
That was the very way of thinking Mr. Dean disliked. Do you mean always to be poor, Kit? he asked me every time I saw him, and explained it was a man’s habits kept him poor, and taught me about prudence and thrift and hard work and duty and living by the law no matter what. The preacher taught ’twas God who made one man poor and another rich, and said it was a sin to wish ourselves above our stations. But other times he talked like Mr. Dean, and said the poor was poor on account of their lazy and improvident ways. I did not see how both could be true, so I chose to believe Mr. Dean, who encouraged me, and taught me to do sums with a pencil.
“I’ll not ask him for another penny,” I said to her.
“Then stay with Michael, and I’ll go.”
I just stared, for she knowed as well as me that Mr. Dean wouldn’t give her so much as a farthing. I was one thing: quick and clever and hardworking when I had a chance to be. But Mr. Dean thought Mam was one of the idle poor, what didn’t deserve his help. ’Twas true she didn’t spin or knit, for her hands pained her—or so she said. I own they never kept her from working in the Curtis kitchen when extra help was wanted, and eating some of what she cooked there. She’d been in service before she met my dad, and knowed how to cook a sturgeon or make a marrowbone stew or seal a woodcock pie with so much butter it could be kept on a shelf for many months before eating. But of course a cook must live with the family she cooks for, and Mam lived with us. She might have been a alewife, like Tabitha Osborne, but she liked better to drink ale than to brew it.
“Ye know he’ll give ye naught,” I said at last.
“He’ll give me naught if he knows it,” Mam said. “But there’s plenty of wood in his hedges for the taking.”
“Mam, no! The law says ye may be whipped for such thieving.”
“But justices are mostly merciful in winter.”
“It an’t come to that yet.”
“If it an’t come to charity and it an’t come to stealing, what’s it come to, then?”
And I knowed I must go begging after all.
“Curse this weather! If we lived in London it wouldn’t have come to this, anyways!”
“Well, we don’t,” Mam said.
“I an’t taking Christy. One of his shoes is broke.”
I looked down at him, and he bent his head back and looked up with his mouth agape.
“It an’t me makes him go,” Mam said.
It was true. Everywhere I went, Christy came along after me. “He’s yer shadow,” Mr. Pearson at the smithy always said, and Mr. Lowry at the tavern said, “He follows ye like a dog.” But they was wrong. A shadow never troubles a body, and a dog will be a friend, if ye let him, and neither one casts doubt upon ye. If I had to say what Christy was, I would say he was like my shame-fullest bodily part: a boil on my backside, some days, or my prick when it rose up at the sight of Kate Haddon’s paps pushing at her bodice whilst she served at the tavern. He was that much a part of me.
“Can’t I come, Kit?” Christy asked.
“Oh, come on, then, and do as ye’re told or I’ll leave ye in a ditch and come home without ye. Here, let me wrap yer hands, or those chilblains will never heal.”
I looked carefully at the purple splotches on his .ngers. He’d been scratching them, but they wasn’t bleeding. I bound his hands with rags, and my own, too, for we’d none of us gloves to wear. It was as well for Christy to come with me when I begged, I thought as I .nished my task, for it reminded folks just how bad off we was, with both a child and a simpleton to feed.
“If ye can’t .nd any .rewood get some beer off someone and bring it home,” Mam said. “It warms a person wonderful well.”
But I turned my back on her and walked out into the winter. Excerpted from The Brothers Story by Katherine Sturtevant.
Copyright © 2009 by Katherine Sturtevant.
Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and
reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in
any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Kit and Christy were identical twins. But Christy was "simple-minded". It was very cold the winter that Kit ran away to London to make his own way in life, leaving Christy behind.
I had to cover up with a throw as I read this book...it was so good at describing the terrible conditions of England at this time. Since I really like historical fiction and also like stories of people who overcome incredible difficulties, I loved this book. I wish more students would read books like this; it would give them a perspective on the difficulties that some people have in the world.