Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Misadventures of Maude March (Audrey Couloumbis)

The Misadventures of Maude March
(The Maude March series, Book 1)
Audrey Couloumbis
Fiction, YA Historical Fiction
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: In mid-1800's Cedar Rapids, Iowa, sisters Sallie and Maude find themselves orphaned twice over - first when their parents sickened and died, and second when a stray bullet strikes their Aunt Ruthie through the heart. Maude being only 16 and Sallie 11, they can hardly survive on their own, but when they turn to the Reverend Peasley for help, they wind up as little more than slaves in his household. After the reverend orders Maude to marry an elderly parishioner (leaving Sallie with the Peasleys and their spoiled children), they've had enough. Their Uncle Arlen set out years ago for Independence, Missouri to start a new life, and the girls decide to follow.
An avid reader of dimer adventure tales, young Sallie is convinced she knows all there is to know about roughing it on the range. Even disguising themselves as boys and taking the reverend's old plow horse and buggy pony (adequate compensation for their labors in the Peasley household, they figure) seems more exciting than larcenous. But she's about to learn the hard way that real adventures aren't nearly so neat, especially when a series of mishaps leads her own sister to be branded a wanted woman.

REVIEW: With a strong, fast start, this looked like a fun Western adventure. Sallie starts out hopelessly naive, blindly believing every word of the improbable adventure tales she devours. Older Maude is more jaded and reserved, often downright moody, but is little more prepared for the realities of life and range riding. Along the way, they meet up with Marion, the inadvertent inspiration for one of Sallie's storybook heroes, who isn't nearly so heroic in the flesh; it was his bullet that accidentally killed Ruthie, and his bank robbery that helps make "Mad" Maude's reputation in the papers. I'd hoped that the trip to Independence would grow the March siblings up some - especially Maude, whose moodiness makes her inscrutable at best and downright unlikable at worst. On that front, I was disappointed. Sallie tries to emulate her heroes to be a range rider, but keeps doing stupid things, even after realizing that she can't rely on her favorite adventures to make her into someone she just isn't. The disappearing/reappearing Marion also remains annoyingly ambiguous throughout the book; I never could quite get a bead on his motivations, as they seemed to change from scene to scene. And Maude stubbornly continues being Maude, being sullen and snappish to everyone, even those trying to help. I kept thinking how Mary "Jack" Faber from L. A. Meyer's Bloody Jack stories would run rings around these people in a survival situation. As for the story, it often feels random, as an improbable series of coincidences creates and perpetuates Maude's undeserved reputation... often with few real-world consequences aside from Maude's tantrums whenever she sees her name in print. One of the underlying themes of the story is how one shouldn't blindly believe everything one hears or reads, and how reputations - like those dime novels and many newspapers - aren't always the best way to judge the truth, yet the characters overall lacked the internal integrity to rise above those reputations. Maude in particular made me want to reach into the story and shake her senseless. The ending feels flat, possibly because it isn't the end of the March sisters' story but rather a brief pause in their journey. I liked some of the writing, and there are a few memorable scenes - Maude and Sallie dealing with a too-active dead rattlesnake in particular stands out in my memory - but overall I found The Misadventures of Maude March a letdown.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Beyond the Western Sea (Avi) - My Review
Bloody Jack (L. A. Meyer) - My Review
Heroes of the Valley (Jonathan Stroud) - My Review

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