Simultaneously gender-bending and genre-bending, books, such as Outlawed by Anna North and Upright Woman Wanted by Sarah Gailey, offer a much-needed reprieve from the overly masculine literary south. In these pages, gangs of women ride across harsh desert lands in search of a better and more accepting home. In their journey, they battle sheriffs and bandits (who are more or less one and the same), their relationships with each other, mental illness, and the patriarchy.
Outlawed by Anna North
In Anna North’s alternative version of America’s wild west, women who struggle with fertility issues (or who simply don’t want to lead a heterosexual nuclear family existence) are seen as witches. If they don’t marry men and produce children, they dangle from ropes at the gallows. Ada narrowly avoids this fate when she runs away to a nunnery where she transcribes texts on taboo topics, such as abortion.
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.Ada
With the sheriff on her trail, Ada takes off again this time to join a group of gender-non-conforming outlaws, which go by “the Hole in the Wall Gang.”
The gang is led by “The Kid,” an outcast preacher with what seems to be undiagnosed bipolar disorder. The gang has one ultimate goal in mind: to create a community for other marginalized folks like themselves, those who face hardship due to mental illness, race, sexuality, or gender.
Ultimately, their plan involves wealth redistribution under the guise of a classic western bank heist. Though the mission is a noble one, Ada must decide how far she is willing to go to bring radical change in a world that doesn’t welcome it.
Being the daughter of a midwife, Ada makes it her mission in life to continue studying and practicing women’s reproductive health. A vastly under-studied subject that still has such a depressingly long way to go in our real world and in these pages. While the female anatomy has been dictated by the government, it has somehow yet to be fully understood or treated with respect.
Anna North’s characters are extremely vivid and wonderfully full of life. In these rough and tough chapters, so much soft tenderness can be found within this group of outlaws. The story also serves as a reminder that rebellion can be found anywhere. Even hidden in the corners of a church full of outlaw nuns.
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
As a woman, loving someone who is not a man is to bring hardship onto them. This is true in our world and it’s true in the pages of this book. After watching Beatrice hang, Esther runs away via a librarian wagon vowing never to love another woman.
Thinking the lives of these librarians must be as pure as the pre-approved materials they carry from town to town, Esther sees this as an opportunity for a hybrid wilderness/conversion therapy. Fortunately for us readers, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The librarians, who accept her presence after much hesitation, consist of a few she’s (three of which are in a throuple) and one they (the charming ‘Cye’ who quickly catches Esther’s eye). Cye constantly reminds Esther that she must be referred to as “she” whenever they are in a city.
While also reminding the reader of the dangers that await folks who exist outside the binary. The librarians tote Esther and mysterious packages that definitely aren’t approved reading materials from town to town, dodging murderous ‘bandits’ along the way.
As she treks across desert lands on horseback Esther fights feelings of guilt. Guilt formed from her crush on Cye, a feeling that got her last love into the gallows. She is also weighed down by her heavy conscience after facing extreme violence while up against a gang of bandits who turned out to be men of the law.
The only difference between a sheriffs posse and a gang of bandits is a man with a star pinned on his shirt.Esther
Traveling between city checkpoints Esther comes to realize “The librarians were road-hardened and cutthroat. They were killers.” Can she truly become one of them? Even after convincing herself she can, she has the other librarians to convince. While the librarians question Esther’s character we are left to question theirs. Not everyone is who they seem to be.
Sarah Gailey paces this quick read perfectly, leading readers galloping alongside the librarians in this western dystopia that works as a frightening look into the future of humankind. Yet these pages are jam-packed with hope, especially for those struggling to find an accepting community that is surely somewhere out there just waiting for you to discover it.
A Welcoming Space in a Hostile World
Books like these mirror current conditions facing women everywhere, especially those in marginalized groups. Throughout these stories the fantastical and surreal addition of western tropes offers a dazzling pillow to cushion the blow of reality; that certain people must battle through hostility in search of a welcoming space.
Revolutionary tales like these should continue to expand into all genres, constantly covering new terrains as Esther and Ada did.
Hopefully, these books will end up in the hands of someone who otherwise may not have given these ideas a chance. Though seemingly different, women-focused stories fit perfectly in the Western world. A world of strength, conquest, hope, and radical change.
If you like these books, try The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson featuring another outcast on horseback.