Grace and the Guiltless

I only recently started watching westerns.  Films, I mean.  As a kid, I watched North to Alaska with John Wayne on the regular, but mostly because of the zippy dialogue and that catchy theme song.  I've seen a few classic westerns, but only really enjoyed True Grit.  Part of that might be because we've been to Ridgway, CO, where the town scenes were filmed.  There's actually a True Grit Café there. 

Yet, I generally considered the western as a sort of cheap hack movie.  You didn't have much of a plot, so you got a lot of guns and a lot of horses and went off into the desert and shot some movie about revenge.  Bonus points if there is a bosomy woman involved.  Double bonus points if she needs to be rescued. 

One day, I was browsing the DVDs at the library (where I work, obviously), and picked up The Magnificent Seven.  I knew it was a reworking of Seven Samurai, which I enjoyed very much, so I decided I could attempt to watch it.


First of all, I realized that Yul Brynner was, in fact, a danged hot dude.  Wow.  The Wild Bunch.  Again, it was more about morals, choices, and humanity than firing a lot of guns (although The Wild Bunch does have a high body count).  I loved the scenery and the scheming. 
Secondly, that was a really good story.  It had strong performances and fleshed-out characters.  So, I tried

So I figured, hey, why knock the western?  When I saw a teen-directed western ARC on Netgalley, I had to request it.  A rare breed, that.  I don't know if I can name *any* teen westerns off of the top of my head that aren't "space westerns" or "steampunk westerns" or something like that.  I really, really hoped that Grace and the Guiltless (which appears to be book one of a series) would fill a gaping hole in the world of YA.

The first few pages were okay.  A little reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder with the spunky teen on the homestead who's close to her Pa.  But, you know, they're horse trainers, so, that's different.  Our heroine, Grace, has a way with wild horses.  Even the fierce Bullet, Wild Mustang of the West, settles under Grace's hand.  D'awwww.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (sorry, I had to), some no-good dudes ride up while Grace is in the root cellar.  They proceed to kill her family (obviously this is not a spoiler because the whole book is about her revenge) and burn the homestead.  Grace knows the leader of the gang--the Guiltless Gang, which is possibly one of the most boneheaded names for a group of ruffians that I've heard--and promptly jumps on Bullet (who can now magically be saddled and so forth) to ride into Tombstone (of the pizza) to get HELP.

Grace decides to go to the sheriff for help.  There are two kinds of sheriffs in westerns: corrupt sheriffs and naive sheriffs.  We've got specimen A here.  Although the exposition is really heavy handed: Grace has to go into the brothel to get him (meaning he is a Bad Man, because brothels are Bad Places), whereupon, instead of solving her problem, he tries to recruit her for the madam: " 'Miss Lydia could use a pretty little thing like you.  Once you're cleaned up a bit...' "  Grace totally doesn't get that the sheriff is in cahoots with the leader of the unfortunately-named Guiltless Gang, and storms off and threatens to shoot a bunch of people who rather inexplicable want to shoot her horse.  Then a guy comes and gives her a pouch of silver nuggets.  Grace, being a complete genius, uses the entire bag of silver to pay for one (1) night's lodging and a dirty bath.  Because she is, if you haven't guessed yet, several cards short of a full deck.

Okay, so in the morning, she rushes off into the desert to get into the mountains to track down the Guiltless Gang.  Except, you know, she forgets to bring any food and doesn't check her water skin.  She ends up getting totally dehydrated but is rescued from the brink of death by an itinerant preacher who wants her to let go of her hate (like Yoda told Luke) and accept God.  Grace goes on a rant about how she doesn't believe in God; preacher is all like, "God loves everybody and does things for a reason, so don't hold a grudge."
The preacher seemed vaguely menacing.  This is how I pictured him.

That's when I went to check the imprint, suddenly wondering if this was Christian YA.  There's nothing wrong with Christian fiction; however, I don't read it.  Nope--this is straight-up regular fiction.  So they say now.  But when the preacher can't stop talking about how "God has a special plan for your life," I get mildly uncomfortable.

Grace has now decided to stop believing in God and proceeds to climb into the mountains in pursuit.  On the way, she loses the only photo of her family that she has.  Instead of going on, she turns around and goes all the way back to where she started to look for it.  Mind, she still doesn't have enough water or food.  Life choices.  Grace does not make good ones.  A lot of book reviewers call this "too stupid to live," or TSTL.  Grace is definitely a TSTL heroine.  Er, "heroine."

Next morning, Grace and Bullet fight off a bear.  Legit.  I started skimming at this point because a bear?  And your horse goes after it like some sort of trained destrier, while you let it claw up your arm?  And hey, now that the bear's gone, I'm hungry, so let's eat these totally foreign berries which are poisonous.  Now near death from several causes, Grace is conveniently rescued by the boy/man who gave her the silver earlier.  His name is Joe and he lives with the Ndeh (Apache) people whose camp is in the mountains.  There is a very convoluted reason for this and it exists mainly to transfer Magical Native Person powers to a white person, which some people might find more palatable in a romance (*massive eyeroll*).  Joe tries to get Grace "accepted into the tribe as a warrior" (what is this, Disney's Pocahontas???) but she still has to get revenge.  Although the book sounds like it is respectful of Native peoples, Joe at one point calls Grace a paleface, which was another record scratch moment for me.

I admit I stopped reading about here.  Literally everyone in this book is giving her some sort of woo-woo advice about letting go of the hate and filling her heart with love and forgiveness.  There's this whole subplot about, "Yay, now I am friends with the native people and they will teach me mystical ways!" which is just ... um ... I can't even explain how ugh that is.  I guess she goes and kills a guy and gets all hot n' heavy with Joe (but I didn't get the vibe that they actually do it hee hee hee) but must go find her own path the end.  Once the romance started up it was just too much.

The author's note points out that she lives in North Carolina, which could explain a lot of this desert ignorance stuff, but most of it is just common sense.

I am back where I started: with no solidly-written, entertaining, new YA westerns for my collection.  I don't think they're particularly in demand, so I don't feel too bad, but this could have been a lot better.  The writing level is very low and the plot is pretty much nonexistent.  It feels more like an outline for an old Boxcar Children book than a standalone YA novel.

I'm just queuing up this next western with Spencer Tracy in it instead.

Note: I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


Popular Posts