cover image Outlawed


Anna North. Bloomsbury, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-63557-542-2

North’s knockout latest (after The Life and Death of Sophie Stark) chronicles the travails of a midwife’s daughter who joins a group of female and nonbinary outlaws near the end of the 19th century. Eighteen-year-old newlywed Ada, unable to conceive a child, fears she will be accused of witchcraft, a fate common to the women in her Dakota territory community. After Ada’s former friend has a miscarriage and accuses Ada of casting a spell on her, Ada’s mother helps her flee to a nunnery, where a Sister suggests she join a nearby gang known as Hole in the Wall. Ada becomes a “doctor” to the motley group led by the Kid (to whom no gender pronouns are attributed—“‘Not he, not she,’ Elzy said. ‘The Kid is just The Kid’”). The outlaws plan to create a town where nonconforming people can belong. The tense plot takes many turns through Ada’s increasingly violent adventures with the gang, beginning with a botched holdup of a wagon laden with gold. As the novel barrels toward a surprise ending, it’s further strengthened by Ada’s voice and reflections, which preserve a sense of immediacy: “distances that had once seemed vast were now so small that my enemies could cross them in an instant.” The characters’ struggles for gender nonconformity and LGBTQ rights are tenderly and beautifully conveyed. This feminist western parable is impossible to put down. Agent: Julie Barer, the Book Group. (Jan.)