When I saw Outlawed as a BOTM pick, I was intrigued. A feminist western seemed to be unusual for their picks. I have also recently read two Western-ish books with bands of strong women and enjoyed them, so it was an obvious choice.
In Outlawed, barren women are cast out of society or hanged as witches. Ada is one of those women. After being cast out from her home and all she has ever known, she ends up joining a group of outlaws.
The Crucible meets True Grit in this riveting adventure story of a fugitive girl, a mysterious gang of robbers, and their dangerous mission to transform the Wild West.
In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.
The day of her wedding, 17 year old Ada’s life looks good; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows.
She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. Charismatic, grandiose, and mercurial, the Kid is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan that may get them all killed. And Ada must decide whether she’s willing to risk her life for the possibility of a new kind of future for them all.
Featuring an irresistibly no-nonsense, courageous, and determined heroine, Outlawed dusts off the myth of the old West and reignites the glimmering promise of the frontier with an entirely new set of feminist stakes. Anna North has crafted a pulse-racing, page-turning saga about the search for hope in the wake of death, and for truth in a climate of small-mindedness and fear.
On principle, I am all about a book centering on a queer feminist gang of outlaws and those who are gender nonconforming. However, I was not so wild about a story that aims to be feminist literature that hinges on child bearing and infertility as a plot device without really examining how it affects each women differently. Outlawed did not explore this crucial point thoroughly and seemed to reiterate society’s beliefs that women are first and foremost instruments for reproduction.
Similarly, Outlawed cycled through too many things, too quickly only touching on a few issues superficially. It would have benefited from focusing on fewer and diving more deeply into them. Likewise, there was a wide cast of characters, and they were not very well developed to the point it was difficult to keep some straight.
While the story was fun and was based on a unique concept, it had limited insights. I am not suggesting that all books must be deep. However, if you are a writer positioning your story on deep topics and taking on societal norms, you cannot merely graze the actuality of them. It does not bode well and leaves the reader wanting.
Overall, I did like Outlawed and thought it was fun. It was an easy read, but it did not fulfill my expectations or those it set up for itself.
Contemporary & Literary Fiction
January 5, 2021