Saturday, November 24, 2007

review: The Gentleman Outlaw and Me

The Gentleman Outlaw and Me by Mary Downing Hahn. (Originally titled The Gentleman Outlaw and Me--Eli) Clarion, 1996 (0-395-73083-X) $14.95; Clarion, 2007 (978-0-618-83000-8) $5.95 pb

For this book, Hahn left her usual suspense genre to explore the old west, and proved that she's as much at home with card-sharks and horse thieves as she is with sinister strangers. Our heroine is twelve-year-old Eliza Yates, a spirited girl with a sassy tongue, who narrates the story of how she become Elijah Bates, the boy confederate of the notorious Gentleman Outlaw. Neither of them, however, was exactly what they seemed.

Eliza's adventure begins when she and her beloved dog Caeser run away from her harsh relatives, to find the father who went west when she was five. Disguised as a boy, she saves the life of Calvin Featherbone, a refined young man who claims to be an experienced outlaw. His friend Miss Nellie draws a different picture of him, however: "Some folks think they know it all, but talking like you swallowed a dictionary don't mean a thing if you aint got common sense." And Eli soon discovers the truth of her words, as Calvin--who's as stubborn as he is conceited--gets her into one dangerous get-rich scheme after another.

There's nothing especially original about this plot, but it certainly doesn't seem stale. With a relish in her story that is highly infectious, Hahn spins a lively, funny tale, with lovable characters, a strong sense of place and an enjoyable dash of romance. (9-13)

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