You try and you try and you try.

Everybody else makes things look easy. They seem to do everything effortlessly, leaving you to keep trying, twisting, seeing if this will work, or until eventually, despite that it's your heart's desire, you give up. What's the use? That's when, as in the new novel "Outlawed" by Anna North, you run.

"Outlawed" by Anna North. (Contributed image)
"Outlawed" by Anna North. (Contributed image)

Ever since boys and girls were split in Ninth Form in school, every girl in the Independent Town of Fairchild was eager to marry. Seventeen-year-old Ava was no exception: For years, she'd snickered with her friends about lying with their husbands to bear children for the baby Jesus, and she wasn't worried about any of it. Her mother was the midwife of Fairchild, and Ava was learning all about birthing children.

She already knew that babies came naturally when you lay together often, and Ava and her husband were eager for each other. But as weeks turned to months and there was no pregnancy, people began to whisper. Only a witch would embarrass her husband. Witches were barren. Witches cursed other women's babies!

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For her safety, Ava's mother sent Ava to a convent.

Filled with other girls who were barren and likewise accused of witchcraft, The Sisters of the Holy Child was indeed a sanctuary, but Ava hated it there. She missed school, home, her mother and her sisters, and she'd be strung up and left for dead if she left the convent — unless she left with help.

The traveling bookseller was supposed to deliver Ava to the Hole in the Wall canyon, but he instead made her walk partway. The people she found in the canyon wanted to cast her back into the night, but they knew as well as Ava that she had no more options. Her knowledge of medicine was what saved her.

And so, in the spring of "the year of our Lord 1894," Ava "became an outlaw."

Whoa. Right from the chute and into a new year, "Outlawed" comes out bucking.

But this ain't your grandpa's Western. Yes, there's gun slinging, hosses, banks to rob, and a no-good sheriff. But then no, this novel is as if "The Handmaid's Tale" had a baby with the real Butch Cassidy. Set in 1894, but it's futuristic-ish; dystopian in a feminist way, but with tiny romantic overtones. It's rough, and soft. Profanely sweet with wide-eyed openness, and an exciting culmination that ricochets off the bulk of the tale.

Author Anna North gives her readers all that and more, wrapped up tight in an observant, resourceful heroine who knows how to save her own hide. Again, however, beware: Whether she's breaking through brush, breaking into a run, or breaking with normal, Ava's not your grandfather's Little Missy.

That is to say, this book is excellent, but it's not one you'll L'Amour if you like the conventional. If you're looking for something unique to devour with your holiday leftovers, though, this is your book. Start "Outlawed" and just try to put it down.

Author Anna North. (Contributed photo by Jenny Zhang)
Author Anna North. (Contributed photo by Jenny Zhang)

Book notes

"Outlawed" by Anna North is available at Barnes & Noble at Apache Mall and through online booksellers.

"The Bookworm" is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on the prairie in Wisconsin with one man, two dogs and 16,000 books. Look for her at or bookwormsez on Twitter.