Strong-willed and more knowledgeable than most everyone when it comes to horses, Pell Ridley cannot reconcile herself to the stifling life of a married woman—not after seeing the endless monotony of poverty, child birth, and death played out in her own parents' household. Desperate for something more, Pell does the only thing she can. She leaves.
Meg Rosoff's The Bride's Farewell (2009) starts on August twelfth, eighteen hundred and fifty something, the day Pell is to be married. She gets out of bed, kisses her sisters goodbye and goes outside to tell her horse, Jack, that they are leaving in the hopes of finding work at Salisbury Fair with one of the numerous horse merchants.
The sudden decision of a young boy named Bean to accompany her does not change Pell's resolve though it will dramatically change her journey and force her to reconsider everything she thought she was running from.
I really hated Rosoff's earlier novel How I Live Now and still don't entirely understand how it won the Printz Award in 2005 when, to me, it barely felt like a YA novel. I picked up The Bride's Farewell because the plot and the time period intrigued me. While I was surprised to find this novel not being marketed as a Young Adult title (it seems more YA than How I Live Now frankly), I am happy to say I was not disappointed.
Short chapters tell the story of Pell's present departure as well as the story of Pell's past that led to her momentous decision. Rosoff's writing is sparse and somewhat utilitarian, a fitting style for a book set at a time when England was still reeling from the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution.
Equally fitting to the period, perhaps, is the fact that parts of this novel are bleak and miserable to the point of being excessive. Except that, for real people of the time, such events often comprised everyday life. Without saying too much, the ending made such parts bearable.
Pell spends much of the book wandering the English countryside at a time when communication and transportation between towns were minimal. Rosoff conveys this haunting sense of vastness and space with surprising vividness.
The Bride's Farewell is intricately structured with characters and events intertwining in unexpected ways. As a result the book is filled with surprising twists that, by its conclusion, make perfect sense as parts of the whole.
Possible Pairings: Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Hard Times by Charles Dickens, I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson