Outlawed, a novel by Anna North, has a uniquely feminist take on living in the Old West and challenges everything you know about the typical stories of the Western genre. The genre that primarily focuses on stories of men is turned upside down in this powerhouse tale of a group of independent women living in the Old West — and surviving without the help of men.
Set during the 1890s, the novel follows the life of Ada — a 17-year-old who just got married to a man she loves. However, love can only last through so much in a marriage — and a barren wife tests this love. Ada had been married for a year and had still not become pregnant — something that women were routinely hanged for out of fear that they were witches. Scared for her own safety, Ada flees from the life she has known and ventures out alone for the first time. On her journey, Ada becomes determined to get rid of religious explanations for infertility and find out more about the actual science behind gynecological medicine. Her feelings of dejection from being outcast due to her barren nature left her seeking books and information — though she only gains access to these items sporadically, she is determined. She soon finds the Hole in the Wall Gang, a notorious band of outcast women for various reasons. Though it seems like Ada has found refuge within this group of women, she quickly learns that they have a plan to create a new safe haven for all women — and that this plan could get them all killed. Is the promise of a new frontier with a better future for all women worth the risk? Or will Ada find herself seeking refuge once again?
I will be the first to admit I wasn’t convinced I would enjoy this novel. I’m not one to be fascinated by the Western genre as a whole — but this novel changed everything. No longer reading about women as helpless individuals living on the frontier but reading about women who have taken charge of their own lives was captivating. Seeing how an author could spin traditional elements of history, and a genre, in a way that created an Old West world with strong-willed women and feminist ideals throughout is groundbreaking.
By Rylee Petty, Staff Writer