cover image The Robber Girl

The Robber Girl

Franny Billingsley. Candlewick, $18.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6956-0

Five years before the events of Billingsley’s (Chime) fantasy-tinged western, ivory-skinned Robber Girl, 10, who can’t speak unless spoken to, was abandoned by her mother. She doesn’t remember her name or past—just that Gentleman Jack Royal rescued her and gave her the dagger with which she psychically converses. Per Jack, once they stick up a gold-laden stagecoach, he’ll give her a new name and a home; as it turns out, however, their intended target is a trap for Jack, who is wanted for murder. After Jack is arrested, Robber Girl moves in with Judge and Mrs. del Salto in Blue Roses—a town favored by the boon-granting celestial goddess for which it is named. Mrs. del Salto balks at Robber Girl’s arrival—the woman still grieves the two children she lost to smallpox, and Robber Girl doesn’t want to betray Jack by becoming “tame”—but both come to realize that the town’s patron deity works in mysterious ways. Robber Girl’s lively, lyrical first-person narration lightens Billingsley’s plot, which sensitively explores topics such as trauma, healing, and gratitude. Arguments with the hyper-literal dagger inject humor, the poignant mystery surrounding Robber Girl’s pre-Jack life imparts drive, and a subplot involving an enchanted dollhouse adds heart. All characters are cued white. Ages 10–14. (Sept.)