Boston Jane: Wilderness Days

by Jennifer L. Holm

HarperCollins, September, 2002.
Hardcover, 242 pages.
ISBN: 0060290439
Ages 10 and up

Boston Jane: Wilderness Days by Jennifer L. Holm Boston Jane is a spunky, red haired sixteen year-old girl who has an excellent finishing school education that has given her few skills for surviving in the frontier territory of Washington in the 1850s. She has followed a young man to the American West, lured like so many young women, with a promise of marriage. On arriving, Jane finds that her intended has married another woman and left her stranded in a strange land full of rough men, rough living conditions and little hope. Soon after the first blow of finding that her intended had failed to wait for her, Jane receives the last letter from her father which was mailed after his death. Jane finds herself in a world of men who all seem untrustworthy and ungrateful. Forced to wash clothes, cook and sew, Jane's resentment and distrust of men grows out of proportion to reality, and she soon finds herself in a depressed state. Her one hope of escape, going into the oyster harvesting business with her landlord, ends in disaster when he gambles away all the profit of their first shipment and leaves nothing to pay the laborers who worked for them. All seems lost. Even the proposal of marriage from Jehu, the young ship captain, appears dangerous. Jane knows that a man who is married can claim twice the amount of land that a single man can claim.

Then, a young couple arrives, and Jane thinks that she will now have another woman like herself as a friend. Mr. and Mrs. Frink are very charming, and they intend to open a hotel. But Mrs. Frink is too charming. She has all the men in town competing to do things for her. Everything she does seems charming and gracious, and Jane feels even more unappreciated and lonely. Then a stranger who is kind, and has gracious manners appears suddenly when most of the men of the area have left for a few days. When he leaves, he gives Jane a gold watch which will pay for her passage back to Boston. Only when she is ready to go does Jane find out that the man who was so kind may very well be planning a horrible revenge on Mr. Russell. Mr. Russell and others from Shoalwater Bay have gone to meet with the governor of the territory and all the native tribes. The Governor is determined to buy land from the Indians and then move them all to a reservation. Jane, Jehu and a young Keerukso must make a fast journey across the territory to stop the impending disaster.

Ms. Holm has done a masterful job of taking the reader back to a time and culture, the rules of which are now largely forgotten. The difficulties that pioneer women had to overcome were enormous, yet they had few rights. Somehow they managed to perform astounding amounts of work, while keeping to social mores that seem strangely out of place on the frontier. Boston Jane's adventures will keep any young reader's attention and it will give the reader a real initiation into how one generation laid the foundation for a new world.

--Sarah Reaves White

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This review was published in the February, 2003 of The Internet Writing Journal.

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