Outlawed | Anna North #USAfiction

Outlawed

What a hoot!

Outlawed by Anna North was the perfect summer holiday book. Light and easy to read, with an interesting premise and an uncomplicated storyline. And a great cover!

The story opens in late 19th-century America, though not quite the Old West we know. In this version of our past, the Great Flu of the 1830s killed 90 percent of the U.S. population, snuffing out the Industrial Revolution and the federal government. A decimated nation was in no mood for Civil War; the few Black survivors of the plague escaped slavery on their own. And now, some 60 years later, the people remaining in the Dakotas have built a patriarchal Christian society centered on fertility.

Washington Post

I don’t always get on with books recommended by the Reese Witherspoon book club, but I am very happy to make an exception here. 

If I wanted to be finicky, I could question the lack of racial inclusivity and the distinct lack of Native American characters, despite the era and location. The religious mania and ignorance that ruled this world also never seemed to be challenged by the characters or by North. It was accepted and tolerated for the sake of Baby Jesus and Mother Mary. I also would have liked more stuff about the flu and the change of politics and how they got to where they were.

However these niggles only occurred to me after my binge-reading session on the weekend was over. During the middle of the binge I was having too much fun to worry about any flaws.

Riding trails with Ada and the Hole in the Wall gang became the new frontier – a gender frontier! The gang was a made up of women who were no longer accepted by their communities. For being barren, for sexual subversion or for being witches. Some were gay, some were gender fluid and most of them dressed up as men to go on raids.

But Ada didn’t just want to be a rebel hiding in the woods. She was training to be a midwife before being run out of her town. She was filled with a passion to learn and to dispel myths and superstitions surrounding females bodies and how they worked (or not). Her aim was to work with a famous frontier midwife to make the lives of other women better. But before she could move on safely, she had to convince the gang to trust her, accept her and help her to get to where she wanted to be.

This middle part is where the fun cowboy stuff happens. Drinkin’, shootin’ and lots of horse riding. Naturally there are a couple of shoot-outs and some time in the county jail.

If you’re looking for something entertaining and a little subversive for your next holiday read, then this could be the one for you!

13 thoughts on “Outlawed | Anna North #USAfiction

  1. My father thought that the US gun culture arose out of the Civil War (I know it’s in the Constitution but that was envisaged for Militias) but apparently North was unable to imagine a Wild West without guns. I’m glad it was a fun read though.

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    1. Your father was probably right Bill.
      As time goes by, the number of missed opportunities in this book are obvious. Reimagining women as outlaws in the wild wild west could have gone so much further – challenging US gun culture is just another example.
      But it was fun rather than enlightening. I suspect this is another book ripe for Reese to turn into a movie!!

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  2. In my younger days, I was totally fascinated by the Wild West. Read a lot of nonfiction about it, and still have ‘coffee table’ books from those days. ‘Outlawed’ sounds like something I would like. I recently read a historical fiction book about one of Earp’s ‘wives’ which I liked very much. I must have forgotten to mention it in my reading list because I cannot find it now. I find the times interesting, although it was, from many points of view, terrible times.
    Thank you for pointing this book out to me.

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  3. First, your review is well done–you really caught my interest.

    “I could question the lack of racial inclusivity and the distinct lack of Native American characters, despite the era and location. The religious mania and ignorance that ruled this world also never seemed to be challenged by the characters or by North. It was accepted and tolerated for the sake of Baby Jesus and Mother Mary. I also would have liked more stuff about the flu and the change of politics and how they got to where they were.”

    Well, the USA was essentially colonized by two types: religious fanatics and real estate developers. The last administration combined the two. It was ugly. Religion is still very popular in the United States except in liberal enclaves in big cities and university towns. But, you’d find similar “ignorance” in small towns & parsley populated areas in most countries of that era. Native Americans at the time of the book were seen as an enemy. How would they have been more included in the story? In some kitchy John Wayne movie-way? You pose interesting questions!! 🙂

    It’s a book club book. Yes, some clubs pick really deep stuff. Most pick stuff they can agree on or talk about without becoming enemies! Reece’s club is popular with women who want a story to distract them or to entertain them while they wait in carpool or fall in bed exhausted after a marathon day at the office.

    I like it when people write REAL reviews and pose questions as you have! That’s is really thinking, not just going through the motions.

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    1. Thank you – it was a fun book and fun review to write.

      My pondering was around the missed opportunity in writing a book about an alternative history, where she was mixing things up a bit with these female outlaws, why she didn’t also mix things up a bit with race and religion.

      But perhaps she was saying that after a major crisis like a fictional flu epidemic that wiped out half the US population, the citizens reverted to type in an even stronger way than before? I recall there was one brief paragraph that talked about how after the flu, the slaves were freed, mostly because so many of the slave owners had died and took up land out west, living free, integrated lives, but how that most of the towns were slowly isolating them to one section of town again as religious groups took over. Maybe if I hadn’t read the book so fast, I might have noticed more of these little footnotes…

      It’s curious the difference in how and why our countries were colonised. You got the religious rebels and outcasts heading off with a dream and vision for a brand new world; we just got the rebels and outcasts nobody else wanted! Some had anti-govt political affiliations, but most were just poor and had no choice in what happened to them. It could be said that you guys wear your hearts on your sleeve, whereas we have a chip on our shoulders!

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond with such thoughtful questions of your own 🙂

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      1. If you ever read Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick (my review is on here) you’ll see that the “dissenters” left the CofE to be “free” to worship in their own way. People confuse this with coming here to have “freedom of religion.” They wanted no such thing! They demanded people who entered their colony [Massachusetts Bay] worship and live as they said. That’s why Roger Williams went to Rhode Island. It’s why the Catholics were in Maryland and the Quakers in Pennsylvania. [Very simplified, but true]. The rest of the Mayflower was populated by real estate developers [i.e. “strangers”] wanting to make a few bucks off the new land either for themselves or for the Crown. Later there was the Great Awakening which revived and encouraged the old Puritan and Pilgrim beliefs. If you can imagine, the ultra-liberal-woke-even Harvard and Yale were Puritan institutions! FYI–my Mom’s family left Scotland for Ulster and then for Hobart in Tasmania. They couldn’t make a go of it, so went to the USA.

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        1. I only knew the very basic story of the Mayflower, so thanks for filling me in. I didn’t know Philbrick wrote more books that weren’t to do with Moby-Dick 🙂
          I’m now also remembering the movie Far & Away with Cruise & Kidman about the Irish coming to America during the years of the land grabs out west – property developers one and all!

          Like you, but in reverse, I had various branches of the family come to Australia from the UK via the Californian goldfields. Early Hobart would have been a very harsh place to live, although coming from Scotland, the weather should have a least been familiar!

          One of Australia’s founding types is the Remittance Man – the younger sons of well-to-do families that had nothing else to do, except get into mischief at home. Most of them got sent to Australia by their families to get rid of the problem. They were often drunks with money problems and useless at doing anything useful. In contrast there was the Independent Man (and Woman) who came out here to get away from the grinding poverty and class system in the UK, who scraped together just enough for their passage over, to head out into the bush to try and carve out a new life, away from the watching eyes of society.

          And either way, our founding fathers and mothers were terrible at dealing with the Indigenous populations that they invaded and displaced in both countries.

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