Pell Ridley does the unthinkable on her wedding day: she takes a horse, her dowry money, and her youngest brother Bean and runs away to the Salisbury Horse Fair, hoping to make her fortune on her own. Having grown up in a family of nine (plus Bean), with a drunk preacher for a father and a mother who was worn out from childbearing/rearing, Pell has decided that she'll have none of that. With her knack for horses, she feels certain a better life can be had far away from her family. But she's scarcely gone a few days when her promised wages disappear, along with her horse and Bean. The only option left open to this girl of the 1850s is to set out on foot to look for her younger brother, her only companions her dog Dicken and her courage to keep going.
Meg Rosoff's The Bride's Farewell has a ton of potential to be a rousing good tale but unfortunately the story sort of meanders from one place to another, with characters appearing and reappearing in haphazard form. Pell herself is a good enough character, filled with plenty of brains and spunk, but the love interest of Dogman just doesn't resonate (especially when his big secret is revealed). Bean doesn't speak at all, which makes him a hard character to warm up to, and Pell's other brothers and sisters wander in and off the landscape, leaving me scratching my head as to why she eventually feels so compelled to search them out. Oh, and the gypsy family? Well, I understood well enough why they were there, but like most of the others in this short book, I just was never made to care that much about any of them.
It's not that The Bride's Farewell is a bad book, or even badly written. It's just that I kept thinking that all the loose threads would tie up in an unexpected, exciting way (perhaps in the way of Holes by Louis Sachar), and they just didn't. I saw what was coming early on. I really wanted Pell to have a major epiphany or some grand adventure but the storyline is much too subtle for that. I kept feeling as though when a storyline did come to a conclusion, it wasn't one that made me think "Ah ha!" or feel surprise. Matter of fact, I really didn't feel much of anything. The setting could have been anywhere (in fact, I felt it might have made more sense set in the USA), and the time period felt much more medieval than Victorian. Having read earlier works by Rosoff, I suppose I was expecting more...just more. Rounding up from 2.5 stars because I can't put my finger on just what went wrong, only what was missing.