I love charity shops, don’t you? They’re so full of treasures. You really never know what you’ll find. I walked into a Princess Alice when I first moved here and found a novel about Henry VIII with a Borders sticker on it – four years after they went out of business and in a completely different country!
Anyway, on my last expedition to Oxfam, I was really surprised to see this lovely little book tucked into the children’s hardcover section. It boasted that it was a Carnegie Medal Winner, and is pitched as “magical” and a “children’s novel for adults” (which I love – The Little Prince is my favorite). It was only £1, so I gave it a shot.
Synopsis from Amazon:
On the morning of her wedding, Pell Ridley creeps out of bed in the dark, kisses her sisters goodbye and flees – determined to escape a future that offers nothing but hard work and sorrow. She takes the only thing that truly belongs to her: Jack, a white horse.
The road ahead is rich with longing, silence and secrets, and each encounter leads her closer to the untold story of her past. Then Pell meets a hunter, infuriating, mysterious and cold. Will he help her to find what she seeks?
Inside is a beautifully written, vivid coming-of-age tale. Like the synopsis states, we begin our story with Pell sneaking off in the middle of the night. She is confronted by her foster brother, Bean, who is mute, but demands to accompany her. They travel through the New Forest, reach Salisbury where Pell intends to find work, and eventually become separated. The rest of Pell’s journey is spent trying to find her lost brother and the horse that had been taken from her.
I really liked Pell. Pell is hard, she is determined, and she won’t take “no” for an answer. I love that so much of her personality arose in such a short volume. I couldn’t help but picture Jennifer Lawrence in this role as I was reading it, and I actually couldn’t help but muse over what a lovely film this would make.
The descriptions of scenery were vivid as well. It may just be because I have actually been through part of the area that she lived and travelled, but it was so easy to picture the landscape she was traversing (if you get a Southwest Train from London Waterloo to Exeter St. Davids, it takes you straight through Salisbury, Westbury, Andover, and much of the countryside where she travels).
Though there are so allusions to romance in some of the reviews, there is little to none in the book. I appreciated this. Pell just ran away from a marriage, there is no way that she would completely embroil herself into a relationship when she just ran away from one.
I was reading about the different way the book was marketed in the UK and US. In the UK, it was sold as a children’s book. In the US it was sold as an adult novella. I’m not sure that I would entirely agree that it’s a children’s book. If it’s read as a story about a girl in search of her brother and horse, then yes, but there are a few scenes where there are some unspoken adult situations happening and I know that if I had read this as a 12-year-old I would not quite have understood what was going on.
Some of the negative reviews I have read are from people who loved the author’s previous novel. It seems that they were quite disappointed that this was not edgy or gripping enough, but I feel that the novel does exactly what it says: it’s a journey of a girl trying to find her brother and her horse and some of the people she meets along the way. I was explaining this to my husband (because he kept phoning and interrupting my reading) – I wasn’t upset if my reading experience was interrupted. It was not gripping at any point. The story is meandering, easy, and gradual. It is honest, a bit heart-breaking, and reflective.
Definitely recommended if you need a lazy Sunday read.
The author’s website can be found here.