The Beloved Wild

Written by Melissa Ostrom
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

In her YA debut, Melissa Ostrom creates a charming tale set in the early 1800s in New Hampshire. Harriet Winter, a feisty young woman with a mind of her own, is bored by the continual chores she must perform as the oldest daughter: cooking, cleaning and caring for her younger siblings. She is also not impressed with her young neighbor, Daniel Uriah Long, who was DUL (dull), just as he carved in all of his whittling creations. However, her mother is quite impressed with Mr. Long, who owns the adjoining farm.

To escape inevitable marriage to Mr. Long, Harriet joins her favorite brother, Gideon, on an adventure to strike out for the Genesee Valley in western New York. There’s opportunity there, and Gideon intends to get his own land to farm. He’s also in love with Rachel Welds, an orphaned cousin of their neighbors, the Welds. On their treacherous journey to their destination, Harriet decides to become “Freddy,” a young boy travelling with Gideon. She cuts her hair into a boy’s style and wears britches which she has sewn herself over the preceding months. As a boy she gains entry into a world denied her as a woman. She is able to enter a tavern, almost gets into a fight, and discovers the mobility allowed by britches rather than heavy skirts.

Well-written and sweet, the only problem in this story is the 21st-century mindset for a 19th-century young woman. Harriet’s thoughts about the way women’s clothing is a kind of shackle really displays a modern awareness. Otherwise, this adventure should delight the reader.