Wild, Bucking & Feminist, 'Outlawed' is Not Your Grandpa's Western

outlawed by anna north

You try and you try and you try.

Everybody else makes things look easy. They seem to do everything effortlessly, leaving you to keep trying, twisting, seeing if this will work, or that until eventually, despite that it’s your hearts’ desire, you give up. What’s the use? That’s when, as in the new novel Outlawed by Anna North, you run.

Ever since boys and girls were split in Ninth Form in school, every girl in the Independent Town of Fairchild was eager to marry. Seventeen-year-old Ada was no exception: for years, she’d snickered with her friends about lying with their husbands to bear children for the baby Jesus, and she wasn’t worried about any of it. Her mother was the midwife of Fairchild, and Ada was learning all about birthing children.

She already knew that babies came naturally when you lay together often and Ada and her husband were eager for one another. But as weeks turned to months and there was no pregnancy, people began to whisper. Only a witch would embarrass her husband. Witches were barren. Witches cursed other women’s babies!

For her safety, Ada’s mother sent Ada to a convent.

Filled with other girls who were barren and were likewise accused of witchcraft, The Sisters of the Holy Child was indeed a sanctuary but Ada hated it there. She missed school, home, her mother, her sisters, and she’d be strung up and left for dead if she left the convent–unless she left with help…

The traveling bookseller was supposed to deliver Ada to the Hole in the Wall canyon, but he instead made her walk part-way. The people she found in the canyon wanted to cast her back into the night, but they knew as well as Ada did that she had no more options. Her knowledge of medicine was what saved her.

And so, in the spring of “the year of our Lord 1894,” Ada “became an outlaw.”

Whoa. Right from the chute and into a new year, “Outlawed” comes out bucking.

And yet, this ain’t your grandpa’s Western. Yes, there’s gun slinging, hosses, banks to rob, and a no-good Sheriff. But then no, this novel is as if The Handmaid’s Tale had a baby with the real Butch Cassidy. Set in 1894, it’s futuristic-ish; dystopian in a feminist way, but with tiny romantic overtones. It’s rough, and soft. Profanely sweet with wide-eyed openness, and an exciting culmination that ricochets off the bulk of the tale.

Author Anna North gives her readers all that and more, wrapped up tight in an observant, resourceful heroine who knows how to save her own hide. Again, however, beware: whether she’s breaking through brush, breaking into a run, or breaking with normal, Ada’s not your grandfather’s Little Missy.

That is to say that this book is excellent, but it’s not one you’ll L’amour if you like the conventional. If you’re looking for something unique to devour, though, this is your book. Start “Outlawed” and just try to put it down.

“Outlawed” by Anna North
c.2021, Bloomsbury
$26.00 / $34.99 Canada
272 pages
Author photo by Jenny Zhang

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When Terri Schlichenmeyer was three years old, her long-suffering mother taught Terri to read – mostly to get her out of Mom's hair – and the book most likely to be read was “Mumpsy Goes to Kindergarten.” That was eons ago, but it set a precedent; now Terri reads four to five books a week and writes book reviews for hundreds of newspapers and magazines around the world. She lives in a house on a hill in Wisconsin with two ferocious little dogs and 14,000 books – including about 4,000 trivia books, 2,000 history books, and, yes, "Mumpsy."