The Bride’s Farewell: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Bride's Farewell by Meg RosoffStrong-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: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Hard Times by Charles Dickens, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: The Bride’s Farewell

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How I Live Now: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How I Live Now by Meg RosoffHow I Live Now (2004) is Meg Rosoff‘s first novel. It is a Printz Award winner (an award for excellence in young adult literature), the Branford Boase Award for a first novel, as well as the Guardian award for Children’s Literature.

My only issue is with the last award because there is no way that How I Live Now could be considered a children’s book no matter how the term “children” is defined. Some reviews on Amazon suggested this book for readers age twelve and up. Personally, I feel that is inappropriate for a wide variety of reasons (I concur with a review that place the book as more fit for fourteen and up if not older) but of course it depends on the child and their reading level. I suspect this is a book protective parents might want to preview, or at least research, if their household is one where an adult has to approve the child’s reading material.

Okay, so now you’re either totally horrified or completely fascinated and want to know more. Here’s the plot: The novel starts when fifteen-year-old Daisy is exiled by her father and step-mother to rural England where she is sent to live with her aunt and cousins. Things begin to look up for Daisy (a narrator who is, at best, troubled) in England as she gets to know her extended family and gets some distance from the negativity of her life in New York.

That is, until the unthinkable happens. When unidentified invaders attack and occupy England Daisy’s life (along with everyone else’) is turned upside down. That’s all well and good. But there’s more to it than that. Daisy also begins a passionate, secret, relationship with Edmond–her cousin. That’s right, incestuous.

I’ve thought about this plot point since reading the novel and I do see how Daisy and Edmond being in love was pivotal to the way things went down in the novel. But I still don’t understand why they had to be related. There are so many other, simpler, methods of creating that kind of connection between characters than using incest. Appropriateness aside, it just doesn’t make sense.

Other reviewers suggest this novel is written in the near future, but really it doesn’t read that way. It reads like it’s written now. That’s what makes the plot so haunting. Unfortunately it’s also what makes the plot seem contrived. Perhaps Daisy’s reality is closer than I’d like to admit, but the war angle kept seeming unreal (not surreal, just not real). The absence of details, while maintaining the terror of the unknown, was also counterproductive in establishing an authentic enemy.

The novel is also written as continuous prose, meaning there are no formatting breaks for dialogue (although paragraphs do still factor). This isn’t my favorite style for literature, but it does work with the idea that Daisy is literally telling readers the story.

I didn’t love this book. The truth is, after writing this review, I begin to wonder if I liked it. But that isn’t to say that Daisy (and her younger cousin Piper) are not strong characters. Daisy may not make decisions that many people would agree with, but she does act on what she thinks is right (or at least on what she feels she has to do).

The strongest part of the novel is the middle where the incest doesn’t loom large and before the ending seems to cut everything short, much in the way resolutions can put a stop to events in real life. This middle ground focuses on Daisy and Piper trying to survive in a world they don’t always recognize. The title, comes from this scenario as readers watch Daisy and the rest of the world adapt to life during (and after) the war.

And frankly, despite my criticisms here, Rosoff does have some really nice lines. She writes with a sincerity that makes you really want to believe Daisy knows what she’s doing (in the sense that it makes sense) with Edmond, and with her earlier issues with Bulimia (see why I said she was troubled?).

In summary, there was a lot I didn’t like about this book. Being unfamiliar with the other candidates for that year, I can’t say if How I Live Now was the best choice for a Printz Award. What I can say is that Rosoff does have a way with words which may, in my view at least, be able to better shine in a novel that isn’t quite so edgy.

I’ll leave you now with a few of the quotes I jotted down after my reading of the novel:

“The real truth is that the war didn’t have much to do with it except that it provided a perfect limbo in which two people who were too young and too related could start kissing without anything or anyone making us stop.”

“I didn’t seem to have that effect on anyone but it would have been a waste for both of us to be saints.”

“I frightened myself. I became the ghost Piper was so scared of.”

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Green Angel by Alice Hoffman, The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld