TBR: Outlawed by Anna North

Outlawed can be described using many words, but for me, it was one: strange. And to be honest,
I’m not quite sure if I’m using the adjective in a positive or negative way; the book was just felt kind of off
in so many ways. To give you a quick rundown though, the book is centered around a 17-year-old young
woman named Ada in the 1890s who’s recently married and has a mother who’s a highly respected
midwife in a town located in the (US) Wild West. It looks like Ada’s on the path to become a well-respected
midwife in her town herself when it turns out she’s infertile, and back then, infertile women were often
accused of witchcraft/even hung and foolishly blamed for a wide assortment of problems like the death
of a baby or a disease. Ada is sent off to a convent by her mother to seek refuge, but upon growing
dissatisfied with life there, she joins a notorious gang of outlaws, and from there, the story enters full

Right off the bat, the story’s pretty unique. The setting, the plot, and the characters of the story are
not akin to those seen in other books, let alone one published in 2021. I have no problem with these
unique aspects of the book; in fact, I think they’re great. However, because I feel the story is so wacky and
all over the place in terms of plot, especially as you read past the part where Ada joins the gang, I think the
author misused the great potential she could have had with this story.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead) In retrospect, it seems that the story’s focus was on the ridiculous
beliefs held by many during the Wild West era and the outright discrimination and lack of acceptance
suffered by those deemed different. Later on in the novel, the author brings in another character, Lark, who
is homosexual, and like Ada, was essentially kicked out by those who did not accept him. It turns out that
the entire gang Ada joins is comprised of those who were booted out by their respective towns and
families for being different. However, at least for me, when I was reading the novel, the focus of it seemed
unclear and all over the place.

The second main criticism I have for this novel is how I felt like the author failed to make me feel
any sort of strong connections with the characters. I felt empathy for the characters’ plights, but when
Lark dies in a bank robbery gang operation, I could have honestly cared less and not because I’m
heartless, I promise. The gang leader, referred to ironically as “the Kid,” is described at points throughout
the novel as someone who is mysterious but noble, and when he fell sick from a condition akin to
insomnia, I didn’t feel any kind of genuine worry or sadness for his well-being or the other characters who
would be thus affected. Adding onto this is the presence of several other gang members in the story
Texas, News, Lo, and Agnes Rose, who I honestly mixed up repeatedly throughout the story and again
didn’t really care about. There were hardly any distinguishing characteristics for those four characters.
Again, I feel that this story failed to meet its potential by creating weak characters. Ada, admittedly, was
presented somewhat better, given that she’s the main character, but the constantly branching plot ruined
the book for me.

Perhaps I missed the message with Outlawed or was meant to think more deeply about its
messages, but overall, I was disappointed with this read and was left honestly confused. The ending didn’t
make that any better. Don’t let that discourage you from trying it out, though. Maybe you’ll have a different
take on the story and even enjoy it. One thing’s for sure though –it’s a one-of-a-kind book.

Review by ~ Andrew

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Teen Librarian at the Valencia Library

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