The Misadventures of Maude March - Audrey Couloumbis

Eleven-year-old Sallie March is a whip-smart tomboy and voracious reader of Western adventure novels. When she and her sister Maude escape their self-serving guardians for the wilds of the frontier, they begin an adventure the likes of which Sallie has only read about. This time however, the "wanted woman" isn't a dime-novel villian, it's Sallie's very own sister! What follows is not the lies the papers printed, but the honest-to-goodness truth of how two sisters went from being orphans to being outlaws—and lived to tell the tale!

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Sallie March, our narrator, is an 11 year old tomboy living in what we know think of as "the Old West days". Her parents are both dead, victims of yellow fever, so she and her teen sister, Maude, have since been living with their matronly aunt, Ruthie. While running errands with Ruthie one day, the girls become innocent, victimized bystanders in a shootout. Aunt Ruthie is killed instantly by a stray bullet. {I loved that on that fateful day, Aunt Ruthie, having quite the day already, speaks the unfortunate line: "Some days it isn't even a good idea to get out of bed."}

 

Now really orphaned, the girls spend some time living under the roof of Reverend Peasley and his wife. Stifled by too many rules and Mrs. Peasley's tendency to overwork Maude and her sister for selfish gain, Maude reaches the end of her rope. The last straw is when Mrs. Peasley tries to push Maude into a marriage with a much older man.

 

The March girls decide to make a break for it. Their journey requires them to pose as boys as to not arouse suspicion (you know, two young ladies traveling alone, can't be up to any good...) but hope their travels will soon take them to a new town where they can start over. It's no easy road though. Because Maude sorta borrows a couple of the Peasley's horses to aid her getaway, she gets labeled a wanted horse thief. Through a few other misunderstandings, she also wracks up the charges of bank robber and murderer and boom! -- the March girls are suddenly starring in one of Sallie's beloved dime novels! Every time they get their hands on a newspaper, Maude's legend seems to grow! But it's not just the stains on their reputations they're fighting. Additionally, these sisters face up against blizzards, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, food shortages, finding themselves having to evade police, even being taken hostage by REAL criminals!

 

What starts as a sort of comedy of errors grows into a heartwarming story of sisterhood and taking care of family, no matter what. This story is full of honest chuckles, especially from the wit of young Sallie March, who has sass for days!

 

Ben Chaplin broke some snow going around the cabin, huffing and puffing as he told us he dreaded a winter that snowed him in as early as December. "I don't mind being snowed in, but there's still January and February still ahead of us. By then I start talking to myself."

 

"My aunt Ruthie used to talk to herself all the time," I said. "So long as she thought no one was around to hear."

 

"What did she talk about?" Ben Chaplin asked.

 

"The shortcomings of other people, mostly," I said. It surprised me that he found this funny.

 

For readers who are fans of novels which include maps, this book features a pretty adorable one! Definitely recommend this fast, fun adventure for any and all lovers of Western comedy!

 

If you end up enjoying this book as much as I did, the adventures continue in Maude March On The Run! 

 

Note To Parents: Though this novel is geared toward middle-grade readers, there is some mild violence to be aware of: some scenes mention a toe being shot off and one character being stabbed through the hand. The criminals in this book are of a bumbling, comical sort though, so even the more violent scenes are lightened with humor. Still, heads up on that in case you want to monitor what your child is reading and prefer to do a pre-read yourself.