The year is "eighteen hundred and fifty something," a time when it's common knowledge that girls "weren't worth half so much" as boys.
Pell, one of nine children, is uncommonly bright and good with horses. Living in grinding poverty, and facing marriage to a childhood friend she does not love, Pell leaves in the middle of the night on her beloved horse, Jack. Bean, her mute youngest brother, joins her and they set off north, "the exact direction in which lay the rest of the world."
The Bride's Farewell might start as a typical bildungsroman, but at the hands of talented novelist Meg Rosoff there is nothing less than riveting about this perfect, tightly written story.
The siblings' adventures begin tamely enough. An empty barn provides them with shelter. A Gypsy woman invites them to join her for a hot meal and a night in her caravan. Pell is heading to the Salisbury Fair, a massive annual horse market where she hopes to find a job. But she runs into trouble at the fair and, before long, she has no money, no job, and her horse and brother go missing.
There are no coincidences in this tale, and the Gypsy woman, brief acquaintances at the fair and Pell's own actions turn out to have massive consequences. The brilliance of Rosoff's minimalist writing is setting the story in a familiar frame, but lending Pell's decisions the weight and grace of a groundbreaking, role-defying hero.
With her journey just beginning, 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.
Fortunately, if gluttony triumphs and you swallow it whole, all you need to do is turn back to page one and read it again, slowly this time.
Tammar Stein is the author of "Light Years" and "High Dive." Her third novel, "Kindred," will be published next year.