Outlaw Pete by Bruce Springsteen

cover image

Ill. by Frank Caruso. Simon & Schuster, 2014. ISBN 9781501103858
(Age: 12+) Picture book for older readers. USA Wild West. Cowboys. Springsteen's Outlaw Pete is an amalgam of the stories he heard and loved as a young boy. Cowboys and Indians, the Wild West, the story of Brave Cowboy Bill his mother used to read to him, the spaghetti westerns he watched, are infused with the stories from Native Americans and filtered through Springsteen's considerable abilities to produce this picture book for older readers.
Cowboy Pete is a tragic figure, sometimes poignant, but always brave. His past looms over him but he is determined to put it behind him, burying the fact of his outlaw deeds: robbing banks, terrorising communities and killing those in his way. He rides as far west as he can, marrying a Navaho woman and settling down with their daughter. But his past catches up to him when a bounty hunter arrives. Before he dies, the hunter tells Pete that he can never outrun his past, and so Pete moves on, never to be seen again, his daughter calling for him through her days.
This is a mesmerising story, reminding readers of all the tales they have heard of outlaws who are desperate to redeem themselves. Pete is an example of someone searching for sanity after a wild youth, but unable to disentangle himself from the life he has led. It is a salutary tale, a cautionary tale of past sins catching up, of regret and the need for absolution.
The illustrations are blazingly different and just as mesmerising, causing the readers to stop and look closely at what is before them. The different techniques used, line drawing, crayon, water colour, wash, oil, daubs of thick colour and pages of one colour, all add to the interest in this book, as each page uncovers a surprise, forcing the reader to think about the story and the juxtaposition of the media used by the illustrator.
The refrain, I'm Outlaw Pete is scrawled across the pages as he throws away his youth, but as the story continues, the refrain changes subtly, reflecting his need for redemption and forgiveness.
This is certainly well worth looking past the cover to find the layers of meaning inside.
To hear Springsteen's song, go to Youtube.
Fran Knight