Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison

Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: love, LGBTQ, shooting, murder, poverty, death.

Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars


I’d seen this book on NetGalley a while ago and sent in a request, but the publishers didn’t get to it so I hit up Joseph Beth instead, and bought myself a copy. I was drawn to the description of a young woman who portrays a man in the wild west, and it sounded like something right down my alley. The cover is GORGEOUS, but aside from that, one of the reps at JB also said that the book was their favorite read of 2018. With that kind of recommendation, I was positive this book was going to be amazing. When I mentioned the purchase on #bookstagram, my book club leader told me to hold off reading it, because she had heard about it, and thought it would be a good club read. Turns out, the majority of the club (after a close vote) agreed it would be our next pick, which meant it got bumped to the top of my reading list.

Set like a western, Jessilyn Harney is a cattle rancher’s daughter, trying to survive in the new frontier after the Civil War. Her mother dies giving birth to her, so her father and older brother, Noah, raise her. As Jessilyn and her brother reach their teenage years, their father and Noah no longer get along, eventually leading to a brawl that hurts pa for good. Noah decides to go off and become a gunfighter, leaving Jessilyn to help her pa run the ranch. Pa takes to excessively drinking and addicted to a medical syrup, and one day, he doesn’t return from the mountain. Jessilyn goes to find him, only to realize he’s long dead.

Jessilyn is left to figure out what to do to save her family’s spread. At first, she attempts to find a husband, but that fails. Then, she asks her Mormon neighbors for help, only to be turned away. After that, she decides the only way to save the ranch is to get her brother, who has turned into a notorious gun-slinging robber, to come back and help her. She decides to transform into a man, renames herself Jesse, and rides off on her trusty stead, Ingrid. On the trail, she puts years of secretive sharpshooting practice to use, as well as learns that it takes more than just looks to be man in the wild west.

After some time searching for her brother’s Wild Bunch trail, she parlays her sharp shooting skills into a job working for the Governor as a guardsman, in the hopes that she can join the army who intend to hunt Noah down. But just as Jessilyn starts to understand what kind of man she works for, the tables turn.

I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK. It may just be the best read of the year for me, it was so good. The writing is beautiful, the characters are so multidimensional, and the writing is absolutely atmospheric. I felt like I was riding alongside Jessilyn on her journey, completely absorbed. I also couldn’t stop marking lines that made up the character developement of Jessilyn. They not only resounded with me, but awed me with their blunt truths, such as:

“”I don’t know nothing about no devil, sir.” I had enough trying to figure the Lord.”

She wasn’t educated in a traditional sense, but she was wise and mature beyond her years. Though, I’ll also say that Larison didn’t overplay this- there were many instances where Jessilyn’s gullibility and innocence shown through. It was well balanced, which I enjoyed. Overall, it’s a heartwrenching, action-packed western meets historical fiction meets coming-of-age novel that I probably won’t stop raving about for a lonnng time.

Published: August 21, 2018

Publisher: Viking

TL/DR: Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison is a modern western and coming of age novel about a young girl who masquerades as a young man in order to find her renegade brother.

Read it? Absolutely, if you’re into historical fiction, feminism, westerns, or coming of age adventure novels.

Recommend it? Yes, definitely.

Buy it? I loved this cover the moment I saw it, and had to own it. I suggest you do the same.

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Categories: Action Thriller, Book Review, Contemporary, Fiction, Historical, Western

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