Meg Rosoff"s The Bride's Farewell.
Maybe the best book of my reading year.
So many stories start off with a interesting set-up, but then turn in to the same-old same-old:
An under-appreciated gal finds love and a glamorous makeover.
The unreliable narrator turns out to be hiding a truth worse than you think at first.
Square-jawed hero will decode the ages-old secret before the collapse of civilization.
Freakishly clever serial killer will do awful things and then get caught, except he will escape in the last paragraph.
Don't get me wrong, these books can be delightful.
But we like surprises, we people do. Which might be why I have enjoyed this book so much.
The Bride's Farewell starts with a girl running away from home the morning she's to wed. It's 1850-something, and Pell takes some food, the coins meant as her dowry, her beloved horse and, then, as she starts off, finds that her silent little brother, Bean, refuses to be left behind.
Like many another character before her, Pell is different from her dirt-poor family, from other girls, from what society expects.
It's not just her unwillingness to settle down and marry the local boy she's known her whole life. It's not just her fear of ending up like her mother, exhausted and wrung-out from endless childbearing and grinding disappointment.
No, Pell is good with horses –– really good –– and she hopes to use this skill to make her own way through the world. But she does not quite reckon on the difficulties she'll face with people.
The Bride's Farewell is full of surprises and twists that make perfect sense in hindsight (like all the best fiction). Pell's insight into the thoughts of animals (matched by her lack of insight into the thoughts of humans) is utterly convincing and thought-provoking.
At 214 pages, it's easy to down in a single sitting, but Rosoff's stylistic strengths (the writing is vivid and restrained, with only the best details filled in) bear re-reading. Now go to your local and read it.
The open road. What a trio of words. What a vision of blue sky and untouched hills and narrow trails heading God knew where and being free––free and hungry, free and cold, free and wet, free and lost. Who could mourn such conditions, faced with the alternative?"