From the Publisher
“Rosoff’s prose is strong and muscular, its cadence that of a horse’s canter, its chiming tone ballad-like. Teens will be enthralled by Pell and her archetypal quest; adults will revel in the novel’s canny wit, lyricism and piercing insights.”
“Pell’s tale is slim yet rich, like a flourless chocolate cake. The lyrical passages and the strange and wonderful characters will linger with you long after the covers are closed. You’ll be tempted to devour the book in one gulp, to read it in one sitting, when really, it should be savored.”
—St Petersburg Times
“Another shift in emphasis for this always revelatory author as she illuminates the lives of the rural poor in the world of Hardy’s Wessex… it is not necessary to love horses, but you probably will after reading it.”
“Pell Ridley will captivate the readers of this book.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Rosoff specializes in feisty heroines, and her main character here, Pell Ridley, is no exception.”
—The Guardian (London)
“Meg Rosoff is a wonderful, captivating writerher evocation of place and time are pitch-perfect.”
—Daily Telegraph (London)
“As exhilarating as a ride across the moors, Rosoff's fourth novel is rich in the emotional landscape of the untamed female heart. . . . Rosoff's vivid, pared-down style brings it closer to a kind of western . . . every sentence is crafted and weighted with beauty, but it's the intelligence and shaping sensibility with which the story is told that make it something special.”
—The Times (London)
“Rosoff specializes in feisty heroines, and her main character here, Pell Ridley, is no exception…. Rosoff never patronises her readership or succumbs to the desire to make goodness seem simple: her world is as morally ambiguous as it is deftly realized, and all the better for it.”
—The Guardian (London)
Pell Ridley is the adventurous heroine in this serviceably told tale, the fourth novel for London-based Rosoff, who has written successfully for the YA market. On her wedding day, Pell leaves town on her faithful horse, Jack, grudgingly bringing along her mute younger brother, Bean. Pell shirks expectations and jilts her childhood beau, Birdie, with an oddly modern defiance of 1850s England convention. No matter that Birdie seems a nice enough man, unlike her abusive preacher father-Pell is stubborn in her desire to flee the domestic life in Nomansland that mires her mother in a sea of children and overwork. Pell arrives at the Salisbury horse fair and her adventures begin. She is separated from Bean and her horse but meets a poacher she dubs Dogman (he travels with a pack of dogs) and together they wander the countryside living on bread crusts and flickering hope. Pell's love and knowledge of horses factors largely in her fight for survival, but it's human love-romantic and familial-that drives plucky Pell and leads us to this simple but satisfying story's happy if unsurprising conclusion. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School—In rural 1850s England, a horse-mad young woman flees home on her wedding day. Fearful that her fiancé's promise of "a house full of children" will translate into a future of drudgery, Pell plans to visit the Salisbury Horse Fair. Her mute little brother insists on accompanying her, but when he and her horse disappear at the fair—along with the man for whom she's spent the day working and who still owes her money—Pell's vision of her future is drastically altered. The twists and turns along her new path bring her into contact with a wide variety of people, from the Gypsy family that helps her on her way to Dogman, to a taciturn poacher who becomes her savior. Rosoff's simple yet descriptive language paints a clear picture of a world both bleak and beautiful. Like the setting, the characters are many faceted. Nobody, including Pell, is entirely good or evil. Readers will appreciate her journey, both the external search for her brother and a place in the world for herself, and the internal pursuit of balance between familial responsibilities and personal satisfaction. Teens will relate to Pell's internal conflict and refusal to settle onto the path life seems intent to force upon her. Rosoff's first adult title is as finally crafted as her Printz Award-winning How I Live Now (Random, 2004).—Karen E. Brooks-Reese, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA
Two social outcasts find each other against a background of harsh social circumstances in a sorrowful tale from Carnegie Medal winner Rosoff (What I Was, 2008, etc.). There's a flavor of Thomas Hardy to the British novelist's story of survival and suffering in mid-19th-century southern England. Rosoff, author of several books for children and young adults, plunges readers straight into the story of Pell Ridley, whose impoverished family is dominated by her alcoholic, violent father. Accompanied by her mute stepbrother Bean, both of them riding on her horse Jack, Pell is fleeing the prospect of a loveless marriage to the simple-hearted boy next door. She has a gift for horses and wants better for herself. At Salisbury Fair, a horse-buyer, assisted by a poacher, offers cash in exchange for Pell's advice, but in the process she loses Bean, Jack and the money. Nevertheless, alone and on the road, Pell remains indefatigable and fortunate. A gypsy named Esther and her family offer advice, sustenance and a dog. Eventually Pell finds the poacher, a man of few words, who becomes her lover. Later she learns her parents have been killed in a fire; she must rescue her sisters from the workhouse. There's a blissful period while Pell works as a groom, but she can't rest until she finds both Bean and Jack. Fragmented and overloaded with coincidences, but emotionally engaging, treading the line between YA and adult fiction.
Read an Excerpt
On the morning of August the twelfth, eighteen hundred and fifty something, on the day she was to be married, Pell Ridley crept up from her bed in the dark, kissed her sisters goodbye, fetched Jack in from the wind and rain on the heath, and told him they were leaving. Not that he was likely to offer any objections, being a horse.
There wasn’t much to take. Bread and cheese and a bottle of ale, a clean apron, a rope for Jack, and a book belonging to Mam with pictures of birds drawn in soft pencil, which no one ever looked at but her.
The dress in which she was to be married she left untouched, spread over a dusty chair. Then she felt carefully inside the best teapot for the coins put away for her dowry, slipped the rope around Jack’s neck and turned to go.
Head down, squinting into the rain, she stopped short at the sight of a ghostly figure in the path. It had as little substance as a moth, but its eyes burned a hole in the dark.
“Go back to bed, Bean.”
It didn’t budge.
She sighed, noticing how the pale oval of a face remained stubbornly set.
“Please, Bean. Go home.” Oh God, she thought, no. But it was no use appealing to God about something already decided.
Without waiting to be invited, the boy scrambled up onto Jack, and with no other option she pulled herself up behind him, feeling the warmth of his thin body against her own. And so it was, with a resigned chirrup to Jack and no tear in her eye, that they set off down the hill, heading north, which at that moment appeared to be the exact direction in which lay the rest of the world.
“I’m sorry, Birdie,” whispered the girl, with a final thought for the husband that should have been. Perhaps at the last minute he would find another bride. Perhaps he would marry Lou. Anyone will do, she thought. As long as it isn’t me.