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Book Review: “Outlawed” is a white woman’s paradise & travesty

I’m all for historical novels upending the societal norms of the past, but it’s challenging to enjoy one when a novel decides to put the fight for civil rights back 60 years. And this is where Anna North’s highly anticipated 2021 Western novel “Outlawed” comes in.

Described as alternate historical fiction, “Outlawed” follows our resident outlaw–Ada, a young woman in 1864 driven out of her home and marriage after being unable to conceive a child. On the run from the local sheriff, Ada stumbles upon the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang–led by the charismatic and mysterious The Kid who dreams of founding a safe haven for the women cast aside by society. The Gang formulates a dangerous plan to rob a bank to fulfill this dream, but Ada must decide between her dreams and risking her life.

The novel focuses on Ada’s journey, but the supporting cast of “Outlawed” is undeniably nuanced and exciting. Ada’s inquisitive nature and stubbornness are delightful; additionally, her medical dreams are inspiring during a period when women had minimal rights and opportunities outside the home. The Gang ultimately outshines our protagonist, but North, unfortunately, gives them minimal character development.

My biggest gripe with “Outlawed” was Ada's explicitly trans exclusionary discussions and inner thoughts. I could minimally get past the white feminism and surface-level musings on reproductive rights and infertility. Still, Ada’s (and possibly the author’s) outright transphobia induced unbelievable eye-rolls and disbelief. For a book marketed as an alternate history novel that takes a stab at reproductive rights issues, North’s character development and commentary puts the fight for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights back 60 years and dismisses the experiences of the BIPOC and queer characters¬–who are, by far, much more interesting than Ada. I’m all for delving deeper into social commentary, but the focus on a cisgender, heterosexual character that doesn’t give a flying fuck about the rights of queer, trans, and marginalized individuals is wildly disappointing in the year 2022 (note: “Outlawed” was published in 2021, but still!). Although racism, homophobia, and transphobia are touched upon in the novel, there’s minimal commentary, and it’s often cast aside to make room for Ada’s white feminist musings.

I wanted to like “Outlawed,” yet the trans-exclusionary and white feminist take on reproductive rights didn’t sit well. The premise at its core is exciting; nevertheless, the disregard for intersectional perspectives and dismissal of the queer, trans, and nonbinary characters made “Outlawed” a troubling read.

High hopes were crushed with these issues in “Outlawed.” Look over the blatant dismissal of queer, BIPOC, and trans rights, as well as the rampant white feminism. This could be a mildly enjoyable read, but these issues overshadow what could have been a compelling and hard-hitting novel.

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