The Beloved Wild

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Beloved Wild Book Poster Image
Adventure, romance in absorbing historical fiction.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Insight into daily life farming and pioneering in the northeastern United States during the early 1800s. Special vocabulary isn't defined, but context clues usually make the meaning clear. Gender roles and limitations on women's ability to do things like open bank accounts are shown.

Positive Messages

Lots of messages about the unfairness of women not being considered or treated as equal to men, with examples of what Harriet chafes against or complains about: not being able to make your own decisions about your own life; your only hope for at least a tolerable life is to marry someone who'll treat you well; not being able to transact business or have an account with your own money in it, etc. Women's minds and bodies were considered too weak and frail to be good at worldly pursuits. People should be loved for who they are, not for what they do or don't do. Maturity isn't about liberating yourself or having adventures; it comes when you see human nature for what it really is and realize you can't go back to your old self again.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Harriet is a good model for willingly working hard to help her family, speaking out about women's inequality, being a loyal friend, and putting herself at risk to help others. But more than anything she just wants the freedom to make her own decisions. She's not sure she wants to get married, but she definitely knows she doesn't want a marriage of convenience; she wants an equal partnership based on love and mutual respect. The large cast of characters close to Harriet are all good, hardworking, honest people, except one brother who gambles and loses a lot of money. The few people who are bad guys or who don't maintain their farms well are alcoholic. Interaction between early 1800s farmers and pioneers with indigenous people is notably absent.

Violence

Domestic abuse and rape are speculated about. Rachel, a teen, is clearly traumatized by her time living with the Lintons and has bruises on her neck and arms, but details of what happened are never talked about. A bad guy hits children and animals with his walking stick. A few injuries from accidents and rare verbal hostility.

Sex

A couple of kisses. Making out described very vaguely once. Sexual activity implied but not directly described. Talk about penis size not mattering as long the "equipment works." Mention that there are ways to prevent pregnancy, and that women's "sensitive spot isn't the hole. You want to head northward to find her paradise."

Language

A double entendre using "d--k," "damn," "hell," "slut," obsolete "damme," and a place called the Ticklenaked Tavern.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of mentions of wine, beer, whiskey, rum, cider, punch, and gin at gatherings and celebrations. People who drink to excess or outside of social situations either get into some kind of trouble because they're too hung over, or they are downright evil, bad guys. Several mentions of "tobacco juice" and smoking clay pipes in unpleasant contexts. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Beloved Wild is a historical fiction novel with Harriet, a strong, loyal, and brave narrator. The setting is the northeastern United States during the early 1800s, so readers will learn a lot about both daily life managing a family farm and about pioneering in the Genesee Valley in New York state. One of the most prominent themes comes from Harriet's desire to make decisions for herself, so there's a lot of discussion about opportunities for and limitations on women at the time. There's very little violence, but domestic abuse and rape are speculated about when a family friend is traumatized by her stay with a pioneering family that abuses alcohol. There are a few kisses, making out is described vaguely once, and sexual activity is implied. Strong language includes a double entendre using "d--k," plus "slut," "damn," and "hell." Alcohol is frequently mentioned at gatherings and celebrations, usually with troubling consequences for overuse, and the villain abuses alcohol. "Tobacco juice" and smoking clay pipes are mentioned several times as unpleasant.

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What's the story?

THE BELOVED WILD tells how Harriet leaves behind the family and home she loves to be a pioneer in the wilderness. Disguised as a boy, Harriet (now Freddy) finds all kinds of freedom. In men's clothes, she can move about much more freely. As a young man, she's free to go wherever she wants and decide for herself what she should do. But even she doesn't know what she should do when Danny, her sweetheart from back home, turns up in the wilderness. She loves home, and she loves Danny, but she loves just being herself even more. Will she be able to forge a life for herself filled with love, but without losing herself in the process?

Is it any good?

Melissa Ostrom's young-adult debut paints a vivid portrait of everyday life when our nation was still young, with a relatable narrator, a sprinkling of romance, and a dash of adventure. The Beloved Wild not only captures a time and its values vastly different from our own, but also explores timeless emotions, hopes, and aspirations that come with growing up and feeling ready to start living your own life.

Ostrom's writing is strongest when she's describing the landscape or the activities characters engage in to not only survive but thrive as well. Some of the dialogue doesn't quite ring true, and some words have a pretty modern feel to them. But teens who enjoy historical fiction will enjoy rooting for Harriet as she struggles to avoid society's stifling expectations. The ending leaves the door open for more of Harriet's life, feeling more like a satisfying chapter closing than a final "The End."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Beloved Wild portrays Harriet's character strengths and weaknesses. What do you admire about her? Is there anything you don't like about her?

  • Why isn't Harriet able to do whatever she wants with her life? How have gender roles changed since the early 1800s? What would your life have been like if you had lived then?

  • How is alcohol use and abuse portrayed? Are things very different now? In what way?

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For kids who love historical novels and strong girls

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