For this one, I wanted to find something truly egregious, a real example of the trash that was published in the 90s, and this absolutely did not disappoint.
The Book: Bridie of the Wild Rose Inn, by Jennifer Armstrong, 1994. It’s one of those books where the cover tells you exactly how bad it’s going to be. “Includes your own elegant rose stencil,” the cover says! I got these books secondhand so sadly there were no elegant rose stencils there for me, but oh, how I wish there was. I would have stenciled the crap out of my dresser.
So, the plot of this book is that “spirited Bridie,” a Scottish girl, has been waiting for a decade in Scotland to join her parents, who are living in Massachusetts Bay Colony and became Puritans. It involves witchcraft. You’re going to love it.
Bridie is sixteen and leaving her best friend, Kit, and their home in “poor, forgotten” Scotland. There’s a flashback to the tragic scene where her parents leave her with her grandfather and give her a little doll to keep her company, and we are only on page 5 before there’s an “Och” so I imagine it’s only going to get better from here on out. There’s a killer storm as they try to cross the Atlantic, and Bridie can’t stand to be under the decks, so she climbs out where the waves are sweeping across the deck, and cries “Blessed Saint Mary, Saint Andrew, Saint Christopher! ‘Tis Bridget MacKenzie! I’m voyaging to Marblehead! Dinna forget me!” This will become important. The saints, not the Scottish “brogue.” Bridie and the others discuss how there are no priests, only Protestants, and how miserable they all are with fever and scurvy and dysentery and all the other things you get when you pack a bunch of people into a ship without any sort of sanitary facilities and feed them weak beer and stale bread.
Bridie has dried herbs with her, and mixes up a drink for a little girl who is ill, while saying “Don’t fash yourself, my lassie,” in case for a moment you forgot she was Scottish. We get some exposition while she tells the little girl all about her family, and the next morning she’s miraculously cured and Bridie is waiting for “a westlin’ wind” to bring them to Massachusetts. Then we learn a little bit about the many kinds of fish that are found off the coast of Massachusetts for no reason I can really see. She is extremely disappointed to see that Marblehead is a dingy little fishing village, instead of the gallant town she imagined from the two letters her parents sent her in ten years.
When they disembark, Bridie spots a bent nail and picks it up, reasonably pointing out that iron is a useful resource and the nail can be hammered out. This is going to come back to be important. She spots her parents and they have a tearful reunion, and she meets her seven-year-old brother for the first time, with “Good speed an’ further to you, Johnny. Good health, hale hands, and weather bonny.” I see. Then she follows it up with warning him not to be a brat, saying “I’m a proper screaming skelpie-limmor when I’m angered.” Okay. I just googled “skelpie-limmor” and it has zero hits on Google so I’m going to assume it’s a misspelling of “skelpie-limmer,” which Google tells me is a Scots word for “a hussy, a promiscuous woman.” I am not 100% sure that’s what was intended here but it’s hilarious nonetheless.
Her family spots the crucifix she’s wearing, although it’s not totally clear that it’s a crucifix she’s wearing and not a plain cross. Since they’re poor as all get-out and it’s apparently iron, it would make more sense if it was a plain cross, but they’re going to keep going with crucifix, so I suppose we’ll go with that. They tell her to take it off since Catholicism is outlawed there, and Bridie is shocked to find that her parents, who have been forced to adhere to the state religion for the past ten years, are no longer particularly strict Catholics. They haven’t even reached the front door of their inn before Bridie spots “a handsome young man in sober attire” and says hello. Quick work, Bridie. His name is “Will of God Handy,” which I cannot read without laughing because I’m horrible.
In they go and Bridie is shocked they’ve lit a wood fire for her—because in Scotland they burn peat. Fair. But then she knocks over a bench and declares “I might knock the whole house tapsalteerie if I’m not careful” and refers to her brother as a “bonny bairn” and I’m back to rolling my eyes. She unpacks her few things, including a mirror that she refers to as “my keekin’ glass,” her doll, and roses from her grandfather’s garden.
They go to meeting (i.e., church), which Bridie hates (unsurprisingly), then back to the inn, where Bridie makes a new friend. During the week she goes off to roam in the woods and on the cliffs, where she bumps into the “handsome young man” from before. He rudely asks “What are you?” which seems like a strange question to ask a girl you’ve seen before, and they talk a bit about how Scotland and Massachusetts are, indeed, different places. He also says that herbal medicine is against the will of God, and I get the point they’re driving at, that he’s supposed to have a gigantic stick up his ass and be super religious, but the Puritans didn’t have a huge problem with the use of herbs. They didn’t approve of charms, yes, and they believed that sickness was visited on humans by God, but okay, we’re just going to go with this because why not. He also spots the bent nail she carries in her pocket, and I also know they’re trying to get at the “she’s a witch!!!!” thing but if anything, a bent nail was supposed to ward off fairies and witchcraft, not attract them. All right.
Later that week Bridie goes to meet her new best buddy, Sarah, and they discuss how hot he is, and apparently how his mother is a whackjob. In fact, “I once stopped to speak to Will, and his mother called me a harlot and a whore in front of the congregation,” Sarah says. Goody Handy has a screw loose, methinks, but Sarah sounds like a good egg because she talks about how many, many, many single men there are running around and how Bridie doesn’t have to spend time with anyone she wants to. Sarah’s all right.
It turns out that Will Of God Handy (heh) and his family own a competing inn, and when Bridie bumps into him again in the Handy inn yard, his crazy mom comes out and tells her to “Stay away!” although I don’t know yet if she doesn’t like Bridie because she thinks she’s a witch, or if she thinks she’s a whore. Either way it doesn’t bode well. Bridie complains to her own mom, who tells her to “Hush with that clishmaclaver” because they are Scottish, in case you forgot. The patrons at the inn have a lively discussion about the Salem witch trials and whether or not they were really witches, and Bridie goes upstairs because she finds the men annoying. Which in fairness, they are all drunk and probably were extremely annoying. So Bridie is dicking around upstairs with her packets of seeds and herbs, and a packet of sage rips open on a nail and apparently showers the entire room downstairs with sage because all the drunken men freak. Right. Out. How big was this packet of sage that it fell on the floor and through a crack in the floor and dumped a pile of sage so heavy it made a bunch of men sneeze? Was it by any chance a barrel’s worth of sage tucked into a flimsy little paper envelope? They all freak out and point out how sage could be dangerous, and instead of correctly rolling her eyes, she panics about how now everyone in town hates her.
Except for Will Handy, of course. He creeps up into their garden one morning while Bridie is planting seeds and just stands there until she notices, and when she asks what he’s doing and says “Why are you spying?” he starts sputtering and going NUH-UH, WAS NOT. Although he was. She teases him and says “Och, Saint Kilda! You’re as stiff as an aiken board!” because Scottish, and he tells her she’s as muddy as a lobster, and she tells him to fuck off (well, not in so many words), then she panics because she really is all muddy and dirty when she saw the hot dude. This is basically every high-school interaction distilled into a nutshell. When she goes in to complain to her mom, her mother tells her to quit being so Catholic or they’ll lose their inn and all their money. Bridie bitches all “You would have me live here in deceit and heresy. Better I should be sent back to starve in Scotland than fill my belly with such lies,” and you know what, Bridie, you can go back to Scotland, but try not to screw up your family’s livelihood along the way, okay? Don’t be a dick about it!
Bridie mopes around for a while, confesses to her friend Sarah that she’s a Catholic, and talks about how lonely and crabby she is. Trelawney, one of the men who had sage fall on him, comes to the inn and complains about how his pig is sick and it never happened, um um um, BEFORE. Bridie gets even more depressed and goes out to wander around the town, where she bumps into old Will of God Handy. He asks what she’s doing out there, she says she went to visit a friend, and he says “A friend?” sounding “distant and somewhat puzzled.” Will of God is coming across less like a religious zealot and more like some kind of alien. He says “I’ve no friend,” and Bridie says “I would be your friend.” I remember thinking this was really romantic at age twelve, but now it comes across kind of weird. Bridie, you can’t fix him! Run, girl!
But she doesn’t want to hear my good advice, she wants to be with dreamy Will of God. So even after Sarah advises her not to, she gets a bottle of cordial and tries to give it to Goody Handy, who promptly freaks out again and says “I wish for no such thing! Keep it from me!” and doesn’t want to understand that Bridie is trying to date her son. Bridie uncorks it to let Goody Handy smell it, trips over a chicken, and spills it all over Goody Handy. Everyone who sees this gasps in horror because it probably looks like she just threw a vial of blood on her instead of cherry cordial, and good job, Bridie, although I shouldn’t accuse her too much because I did even stupider things at age sixteen trying to get a guy.
Bridie continues to mope around and be depressed. “Her exile was tight and pinching and cold.” She goes down to the docks where Will finds her and they walk along the docks for a bit without speaking. He tells her that his father was killed in a shipwreck and his mother nearly lost her mind, and Bridie “saw the warm, kind young man he was behind the dignified front.” Well, we haven’t seen any evidence of his being warm or kind, just kind of stiff and jerkish, but okay. They go walking in the woods, and this Will seems totally different from the last one we met. He shows her a robin’s nest in a crabtree and wen he puts his hands around her waist, they just look deeply into each other’s eyes and it’s very romantic and and then Will ruins it by saying “You’re so beautiful, I think you have bewitched me.” Dammit, Will of God! Why would you say something like that when you know damn well people have been calling her a witch? Stop being a jerk!
When she gets home from her romantic dalliance in the woods with apparently some other Will of God Handy, she finds her little brother sick in bed after he hung around too long in wet clothes after falling in the ocean. Bridie realizes she used the last of her wormwood on the boat over, and heads out to get some more even though she has no idea if wormwood even grows in Massachusetts. She finds some yarrow and makes a tea for her brother, and stays up all night nursing him. Then when her mother comes in the morning, Bridie rushes out declaring she’s going to find a sagamore. Um. She runs into Stiff Will of God this time, who offers to take her to one after she almost starts crying in the middle of the street. She faints in the woods, in another scene I thought was extremely romantic mostly because Will says “You’ve swooned.”
At the Indian camp, there’s a really cringe-worthy interlude where Bridie SHOUTS AT THE WOMEN WHO DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH in a translation-by-volume incident, and when one of them speaks English she almost cries from relief. As do I, because that was painful. But the native woman says things like “This root is making strong blood” and “This is tree bark making a cough” and it’s…not a whole lot better.
Bridie’s brother recovers, and the shed at Crazy Handy’s house falls down on the same day. Bridie ignores the drunk men in the tavern telling her that Goody Handy is going to blame her, which is unwise, and goes upstairs to look after her brother. On the same page we get “Bide a wee while” and “This is a fine gruel fit for a king, all mixtie-maxtie with honey,” because Scotland. Her friend Sarah’s mom stops by and tells them that Goody Handy has been accusing Bridie of being a witch while Bridie was busy being Scottish, and Bridie storms over there to yell a bit. Apparently the people of the town have been going back and forth because Will of God has been telling everyone else that Bridie is very brave, and telling his mom that she’s a mysterious and beautiful lady, and now Goody Handy is telling everyone that Bridie bewitched her beloved son.
The Governor General comes to town to check out the charges of witchcraft, and rather than burn her little doll, Bridie takes the doll and her crucifix and hides them in a board beneath the windowsill. Although they don’t press any charges, nobody comes to their tavern, because they’re all convinced Bridie is a witch. They come to her garden and stomp down all her plants, including the rosebush she brought from Scotland, which just seems unfairly mean. She flees to the cliff, where Will of God finds her and Bridie takes a strip off him for being a douche. Which he is. And she points out that it’s particularly awful of him to tell his mother Bridie bewitched him when he’s been following her all this time. Which is true. She takes his hand, tells him “I could have loved you,” and stomps off back home.
Three days later, Bridie is roaming the village at night and spots a fire and a woman nearly bangs right into her with a lantern. It’s Goody Handy, and Bridie grabs her. Goody Handy starts screaming that Bridie set the fire, Bridie says she didn’t, everyone in town is there and shouting and it’s a gigantic mess. The next morning Bridie packs up her clothes and tells her parents she’s going to New France, although what exactly she’s going to do there without speaking French is not quite clear. Again she bumps into Will, who takes her to the Salem ferry, and she asks him to go with her and makes a new life. He declines, because of course he does, and she sails away to Quebec. THE END.
Rating: Ugh. C-/D+. Only because I had such fond memories, because otherwise the story is pretty crap.Bridie is not a particularly good character, she makes random decisions, no other characters have any sort of real developed personalities, and Will of God Handy not only has a funny name but is so different as to be two different people. And there’s no actual romance! They just sort of vaguely dance around it for a hundred pages and then Bridie fucks off to Quebec! Man. I liked this book much better when I was 12.