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Genre Literary, Historical Fiction
Format Hardback (borrowed from library)
Publication Date Jan 2021
Length 261 pages
Content Warnings Graphic violence, homophobia, misogyny, references to miscarriage/stillbirth, medical detail
What It’s About
When Ada fails to conceive a child with her new husband, she becomes increasingly desperate. Barren women in her village are often hanged as witches. Fearing that she is cursed, neighbours start refusing to let her attend their births, meaning she can no longer put her expertise as a midwife to use.
Frustrated and afraid, Ada runs away to find refuge with a band of outlaws and their charismatic leader known only as the Kid. In this makeshift and marginalised family, women like Ada are finding power beyond the status of their wombs – and taking revenge on the society that has rejected them.
Historical fiction has never felt so modern! Outlawed, with its commitment to enfranchising bodies and dismantling the fictions of gender, seems oddly timeless in spite of its unmistakably nineteenth-century setting.
“And so I began my criminal career there in the house of God, with a leaky pen instead of a pistol and books instead of silver for my reward.”~ Anna North, ‘Outlawed’
North’s novel defiantly upends every status quo, from the nineteenth century to the present day. Yet it never feels preachy – strong queer feminist messages are embedded in the full-throttle, utterly unputdownable plot.
With bold heists and the drama of tightly wrought but shifting alliances within an independent womxn community, every chapter yields a new source of intrigue.
Diversity and Representation
Inspired by their leader the Kid, the outlaws have created a space that is free from the constraints of binary genders and sexualities. Parts of my brain conditioned by a heteronormative and cisgender society kept questioning their reality, however much I tried to suppress such unhelpful binary thoughts.
Fortunately, though, the novel steadfastly refused to answer my questions, just letting the fluid existence of the womxn outlaws be, rather than qualifying it with limitations or labels.
- Science & superstition
- The body
Beyond the Book
The fight for women to have agency over their own bodies still (somehow) seems to be raging – around the world, we are watching in horror as the US Supreme Court tries a case that could see Roe v. Wade overturned.
In Outlawed, North presents knowledge as power and ignorance as a source of fear, hence the almost sacred elevation of books and the written word in the novel. Ada’s dream is to discover the scientific causes of infertility. When women are empowered to intimately know and understand their bodies, she reasons, there will be no space left for terror and persecution to seep in.
If you’re reading Outlawed as a book club pick or just looking to ponder the story in a little more depth, these questions should help get you started:
1. What was your opinion of the ethical dilemmas faced by the outlaws? Did you ever feel sorry for their victims?
2. Any book-lover will have noted the numerous references to libraries, writing, and knowledge! Do you think books are a significant symbol in the story?
3. Was the Kid a likeable, unlikeable, or ambivalent character for you? Would any of the other outlaws have suited a leadership role?
“The point is, you live like I did, you start being able to spot what makes some people sink and other people swim.”~ Anna North, ‘Outlawed’
Read If You want to relish the status quo being rewritten in a badass feminist western!
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Prefer paperback? Preorder here (published Jan 2022).
You may also like: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.
Have you read Outlawed? What other feminist historical fiction would you recommend? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!