The Robber Girl by Franny Billingsley (9780763669560)
The Robber Girl was rescued by Gentleman Jack when her family abandoned her. Now she is riding with him and his gang into the Indigo Heart to rob the stagecoach and get Gentleman Jack the bars of gold it carries so he can regain his birthright. Robber Girl has her own dagger, double-edged and sharp, that speaks directly to her in a pointed way that criticizes many of her choices. But the stagecoach is actually a ruse to capture Gentleman Jack. Now for the first time in her memory, Robber Girl is staying in a home. She is dedicated to rescuing Gentleman Jack from the jail, assuring him that she will never turn on him. At her new home, she discovers a dollhouse that is a miniature of the house, one with dolls who talk with her and set her three tasks. As Robber Girl stays longer, she starts to remember scraps of local songs, melodies and the truth, but the dagger’s voice stays just as pointed in her head, insisting that she keep it all forgotten.
The author of Chime returns with a middle grade novel that is a tremendous read. The Robber Girl is one of the best written unreliable narrators I have seen in a book for children. She fully believes what she has been told by Gentleman Jack, though readers will immediately realize that there are holes in the stories. As both the readers and the girl find clues to her past, the largest puzzle of the book is the girl herself and whether she can recover from denial and trauma enough to set her own course before being swept away again by the lies.
Billingsley has written great secondary characters as well. Gentleman Jack is tremendously charming and manipulative. The judge, who takes the girl in, and his grieving wife have real depth to their characters and their stories. They add another look at coping with loss and trauma to the novel. Even the children of the village, who may seem to be bullies, have other levels to them and reveal them over time. It’s an exquisite look at trauma, faith and belonging.
A stellar middle-grade novel that is a tantalizing puzzle of trauma and truth laced with a touch of fantasy. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick.