Review of The Robber Girl

The Robber Girl
by Franny Billingsley
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    416 pp.    g
9/21    978-0-7636-6956-0    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5362-0693-7    $9.99

Robber Girl only remembers the life she’s lived with outlaw Gentleman Jack, who rescued her when she was abandoned at age four. Or so he says. Now she’s eleven, a “wild” britches-wearing girl with a coarse voice that doesn’t work properly and a constant dialogue with her beloved dagger running through her mind. Then, in a failed robbery, Gentleman Jack lands in jail, and she’s taken to live with the very judge who caught him. Robber Girl now becomes Starling, surprised by but adapting to the “tame” ways of affection, respect, comfort, and domestic order that she finds with the judge and his wife. Always, though, she remains compelled to free Gentleman Jack; when she does, she finds not just herself but also her past. This novel fairly glitters with the intelligent intricacy of its plot, language, and themes, all of which are intimately joined, refracted, and intensified through Billingsley’s imagery — the dagger, a dollhouse, a songbird. Starling’s narrative voice is direct yet full of wonder; the depth of her confusion and pain (as we ultimately realize) revealed with gentleness and compassion. Bringing together elements of magic, religion, and the Wild West frontier, Billingsley’s (The Folk Keeper, rev. 11/99; Chime, rev. 3/11) story allows Starling, hidden even from her own self, to speak her perceptions, the lucidity of her inner life, with startling, poetic force.

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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