'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 15 April 2024

Review: Outlaw Girls

Combine two of Australia’s most accomplished authors with one of Australia’s most well-known periods of history, slew in the complex dynamics of friendship, loyalty and family fidelity, flavour with the breathtaking drama of life on horseback and you’ve got the latest time slip novel by Emily Gale and Nova Weetman.

That’s right, time slip. In the same vein as their popular co-authored middle grade fiction, Elsewhere Girls, Gale and Weetman take readers on a heady journey into Victoria’s High Country where they oscillate between 2024 and 1878 and two renegade girls, Ruby and Kate.

Ruby is headstrong and wilful, the daughter of a single mother living in the 21st Century with a dislike for conformity and school work. She has an addiction for petty crime; stealing chocolate bars from the local IGA rates as high entertainment amongst her and her possy of like-minded friends. 

But when they ‘relocate’ a mate’s father’s prized tractor, Ruby is hoisted off to her uncle’s farm with little hope of enjoyment or reprieve.

The one redeeming benefit of this enforced social isolation is Queenie, her uncle’s mare. She and Queenie share the same lust for adventure and embark on long reckless rides together through the wild countryside, a freedom Ruby takes for granted until one day she encounters, Kate, a girl who harbours similar traits to Ruby yet is also worlds apart.

Kate dresses weird and talks funny but is as an accomplished rider as Ruby. She too possesses daring and determination that sparks comradery and respect. This could blossom into a sticking friendship but for one thing, Kate is from the 1800s.

Even more alarming, Kate is the favourite sister of the infamous Aussie outlaw, Ned Kelly. How will these two maintain their bond across decades of history? Will Ruby be able to amend time and change the course of history forever? Will she be able to return to her own time after dedicating weeks to helping Kate and the Kelly gang deceive the crooked Bobbies intent of bringing the Kelly family down?

These are the dilemmas thrown back and forth by Kate and Ruby in alternating chapters of first-person narrative. The transitions between times and heroines are relatively seamless and smooth yet the pace and action never slackens. Readers are caught up in a wild and wonderful exchange between modern times and the past with recognisable vernacular and situations. 

Although the Kelly’s story is told strongly from the females’ viewpoints, snippets of past events are woven into the plot that enhance our general understanding of Ned Kelly's time; his attributes, strengths but also his shortcomings and eventual decline into the villain the authorities always branded him as.

It's a tale that could have lingered too long on the tragic aspects of the story but thanks to fluid writing and the unique balance of emotions, wants and frustrations of both girls, we never feel compelled to take sides. Such is the beauty of a well-crafted time slip novel; allowing readers to become fully submersed into the then and now and emerge with a more profound appreciation of both characters' points of view. Plus, it’s a ripping good yarn! 

So, for those who are wild at heart, love a great galloping tale with a healthy dose of fantasy and history, get involved with the Outlaw Girls!

Title:  Outlaw Girls
Authors:  Emily Gale & Nova Weetman 
Publisher:  Text Publishing, $ 16.99
Publication Date:  27 February 2024
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781922790231
For ages:  10+
Type:  Middle Grade Fiction