There aren’t enough YA westerns, an omission Lyndsay Ely is on the way to correcting with her new novel Gunslinger Girl. This complicated morality tale, set in a gritty, post-Second Civil War United States frontier, stars Serendipity “Pity” Jones, sharpshooter who finds herself both lured and revolted by the freedom of a lawless frontier town. If that piques your interest, here are a few other YA westerns you might want to check out.
TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis
If you haven’t found your way to this western classic yet, this is a great time to check it out. Gutsy, stubborn Mattie Ross is just 14 years old — old enough to want vengeance on the man who murdered her father but not old enough to go seeking it by herself. She teams up with a bitter, one-eyed U.S. Marshall, and they set off on an adventure that’s as much a coming-of-age story as it is a revenge tale.
UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee
A Chinese girl teams up with a runaway slave in 1849 Missouri to find a new life on the Oregon Trail, but they quickly discover that the way to a new life is full of challenges they could not have anticipated. This is a pleasantly diverse western (no big surprise since it’s by one of the founders of #WeNeedDiverseBook) that paints a vivid picture of life on the Oregon Trail.
VENGEANCE ROAD by Erin Bowman
Kate disguises herself as a boy to find justice for her father, who was murdered for his journal containing the location of a secret gold mine. (Remind you a little bit of the plot for True Grit?) But family secrets are dangerous in a world where gold is king, and even with the help of her unlikely band of allies, Kate may not be able to avoid the danger that awaits her.
WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER by Rae Carson
Lee Westfall can sense gold in even the tiniest trace amounts — which might seem like a handy skill if there weren’t gold-hungry prospectors who would do anything to put her power to work for them. The pacing is a little odd, but Lee’s California Gold Rush adventures make for compelling reading.
THE DEVIL’S PAINTBOX by Victoria McKernan
Here’s a book that captures the unique combination of horror and hope that characterized westward expansion: Orphans Aiden and Maddy Lynch are the only survivors in their pioneer family, eating mud and grasshoppers just to survive on their drought-ridden Kansas farm. The West offers the possibility of a better life, but getting there on the Oregon Trail won’t be easy.
DAISY KUTTER: THE LAST TRAIN by Kabu Kibuishi
You may recognize Kibuishi’s name from the not-very-western Amulet series, but this steampunk western — about an ex-bandit who agrees to work off a poker debt by training a defensive robot — is the Wild West at its best. Daisy is a great heroine, and there’s plenty of adventure and humor to win you over.
This book list was originally published in the winter 2018 issue of HSL.