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FICTION

My Calamity Jane

HarperTeen. Jun. 2020. 544p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062652812.
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Gr 9 Up–The story starts in Cincinnati in 1876 with narrators Calamity Jane, Frank Butler, and Annie Oakley. There are also werewolves (“garou”) that Frank and Jane, with their adoptive father Bill Hickok, hunt while using their traveling show “Wild Bill’s Wild West” as a cover. Things go wrong after Annie tries to join the show and a hunt leaves Jane with a bite and one desperate chance to find a cure in Deadwood. Although many events have changed, the story stays true to the spirit of these real-life historical figures while offering more optimistic endings for many. This is particularly true for Jane, whose character arc includes a sweet queer romance and reimagining her penchant for attracting chaos as an asset. While Jane is the focus, anchoring much of the plot is Annie and Frank’s actual romance from their first shooting competition to their growing respect and eventual partnership onstage. The American West, as seen by white settlers and romanticized for white audiences in popular culture, is inherently problematic. The authors acknowledge this in their omniscient narration and in conversations Annie has with Many Horses and Walks Looking, Lakota sisters whose help and practical advice are crucial to efforts to save Jane before it’s too late. The story explores themes of alliances and tolerance through Annie’s interactions with the garou (though not with the people of color). The acknowledgements include a list of further reading including works that spotlight Native perspectives.
VERDICT A tall tale offered with caveats, filled with found family, fancy shooting, humor, and adventure.

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