After surviving an assault at an off-campus party, nineteen-year-old Maggie is escaping her college town, and, because her reporting the crime has led to the expulsion of some popular athletes, many people—in particular, the outraged Tigers fans—are happy to see her go.
Maggie moves in with her Aunt Wren, a sculptor who lives in an isolated cabin bordered by nothing but woods and water. Maggie wants to forget, heal, and hide, but her aunt’s place harbors secrets and situations that complicate the plan. Worse, the trauma Maggie hoped to leave behind has followed her, haunting her in ways she can’t control, including flashbacks, insomnia, and a sense of panic. Her troubles intensify when she begins to receive messages from another student who has survived a rape on her old campus. Just when Maggie musters the courage to answer her emails, the young woman goes silent.
In a book that is both urgent and timely, Melissa Ostrom explores the intricacies of shame and victim-blaming that accompany the aftermath of assault.
Reviews for Unleaving
Maggie is taking a year off from college after surviving a traumatic sexual assault. She moves in with her aunt Wren in upstate New York to escape her college town and harassment from classmates who are angry at her for reporting her rape. Maggie wants to forget what happened, but between insomnia, flashbacks, and a triggering email from a fellow student with a similar experience, she is having difficulty moving forward with her life. While living with her aunt, Maggie develops relationships that help her along her journey of healing…. Ostrom tackles a painful topic with sensitivity and care. Maggie is a compelling character, and readers will find themselves invested in her well-being and recovery. The secondary characters also feel like real, complex human beings, and the setting is richly detailed and gives the novel a strong sense of place. This is a great recommendation for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak or for readers who enjoy books that deal with difficult real-world topics.
–Jennifer Staller, VOYA
Melissa Ostrom’s sophomore novel, Unleaving, is a love letter to healing and moving on after a traumatic experience….This book is very much about healing and finding your emotional strength. Ostrom doesn’t dwell on the violent act or even the immediate aftermath; all of that is behind Maggie, and what we focus on is the long-term road to a new normal. Despite wanting to be alone, Maggie finds herself connecting with her aunt’s neighbors/employees, people like Sam, the young father and aspiring artist who helps out in Wren’s art studio, who has his own set of complications in his needy daughter, Kate, and her addict mother, Linnie. Ostrom did a great job bringing multi-faceted characters to life.
–Stephanie Johnston, Forever Young Adult
Ostrom’s sensitive treatment of a timely subject is a welcome addition to novels about rape and its aftermath. Nineteen-year-old Maggie leaves her college after she was gang-raped at a party, reported the crime, and was ostracized for naming popular athletes as her attackers. Her caring mother takes Maggie to the isolated country home of her sculptor aunt (her mother’s somewhat estranged twin) to recover. Maggie deals with classic PTSD symptoms: flashbacks, panic and anxiety attacks, and insomnia. Then she receives an email from Jane, a student at her college, who has also survived a rape. Maggie finally decides to answer Jane’s email—and then Jane withdraws. Ostrom’s character development is noteworthy: from the on-target depictions of overly helpful bookstore clerks to the tension between Maggie’s mother and aunt, the novel is full of people we recognize and care about….it will be a true comfort to those who have had similar experiences and need to see a way past their current pain.
–Debbie Carton, Booklist
The Beloved Wild
Sixteen-year-old Harriet Winter can cook, clean, spin, and sew. She’s a good daughter and certainly of an age to become a biddable wife. Except for one problem. There’s not a biddable bone in her body—and she will not marry Daniel Long, the neighbor whose initials, whittled on everything he possesses, spell D.U.L. Harriet wants to decide her own future. When her brother Gideon confides his plan to strike out for the Genesee Valley, Harriet decides to go, too…but not as a girl.
Disguised as an orphan named Freddy, Harriet makes her way west by wagon with Gideon while trying to forget Daniel, about whom she’s lately had second (and third) thoughts, finally arriving at the thick wilderness where Gideon intends to make his home. And it is here, amid sickness, temptation, unexpected guests, and a never-ending battle to create a clearing in the woods, that Harriet finally understands what it is she really wants, from her life and from herself.
Reviews for The Beloved Wild
This delightful historical adventure, set in 1808 when the ‘Wild West’ was the Genesee Valley of Western New York, marks a promising debut for Melissa Ostrom, who teaches English literature at Genesee Community College and lives in Holley, N.Y.
Hard-working, outspoken 16-year-old Harriet Winter loves her family’s farm in Middleton, N.H., but she rebels at the idea of a woman’s proper place and her mother’s wish to marry her off to 17-year-old neighboring farmer Daniel Long. When her favorite brother, Gideon, decides to head west to settle a place of his own, Harriet leaves with him, cutting her hair, shedding her dresses for men’s clothing and going by the name Harry to more easily make her own way in this new hard life.
Ostrom offers a vivid picture of pioneer life and the wilds of Western New York, the difficulty of the journey by oxen-pulled sled, the daunting challenge of felling trees, uprooting stumps, carving a home out of the wilderness. There are interesting small details, such as the carving of the spiles, or spouts, from sumac for maple sugaring.
Ostrom is a talented writer, and she creates a compelling portrait of a young girl rebelling against the prescribed path set out for a woman of her time, through Harriet’s voice, which is often very funny: ‘It was sad how much more I loved my family when I wasn’t actually near them.’ The writing throughout is vivid: ‘Kate’s stitchery was an untouched puddle of threads in her lap.’ Chickens ‘pecked at the yard, which was unctuous with mud.’ The parallel journey of another female character offers a sobering look at the terrible fate that could befall a woman without money and with no family to protect her.
–Jean Westmoore, The Buffalo News
This is a well-written, captivating piece of historical fiction with a flawed protagonist who often behaves rashly but will earn the respect of readers.
–Barbara A. Ward, International Literacy Association
Melissa Ostrom creates a charming tale set in the early 1800s in New Hampshire….this adventure should delight the reader.
–Anne Clinard Barnhill, Historical Novel Society
In early nineteenth-century New England, oldest daughter Harriet chafes against the expectations placed on her, particularly when it comes to the handsome, eligible, land-owning neighbor, Daniel, whom her mother wants her to marry. Despite a slow-burning affection between Daniel and Harriet, the headstrong girl decides to join her brother Gideon when he leaves home to settle a parcel in the Genesee Valley. Determined not to let her gender get in the way, Harriet disguises herself as a boy and ultimately finds more challenges in the frontier than just hard labor. Ostrom infuses her lyrically written novel with plenty of period details about homesteading in western New York and cultivates a dynamic sense of atmosphere: the dense trees, mucky roads, and back-breaking labor under the sweltering summer sun are all vividly rendered….[T]he warm romance and witty banter between the well-wrought characters should please plenty of teen readers…
–Sarah Hunter, Booklist
Harriet Winter’s future is already planned out. She is the oldest daughter in a farming family, and she is expected to marry her neighbor, have children, and maintain a household. Only Harriet does not want any of these things—she wants a life filled with adventure and the power to make her own choices. When she learns that her brother is leaving home to make a life for himself in the wild Genesee Valley, she seizes the opportunity to go with him and escape her predetermined fate. On the journey, she discovers what she really desires.
Ostrom presents a rich, believable novel with a classic feel. The setting is textured and detailed, allowing the reader to become fully immersed in Harriet’s world. Harriet is a sympathetic character, and the secondary characters are complex and authentic….This is a great recommendation for fans of gutsy female characters like Jo March and Jane Eyre.
It’s a love note to a long-gone time of American history….a quick, entertaining read that I couldn’t put down. I love a contemporary as much as the next person, but every so often I need a book like this to remind myself of where we, as a nation, come from.
–Stephanie Johnston, Forever Young Adult Book Report for Kirkus Reviews
Harriet Winter, the novel’s indomitable main character, is so determined to decide her own future that she leaves home with her brother disguised as an orphan named Freddy. Ostrom charmingly crafts a tale filled with internal and external battles, and it’s no surprise that Publisher’s Weekly called the book, ‘Pride and Prejudice with a western backdrop.’
–Daniel Ford, Writer’s Bone
Harriet Submit Winter has no intention of living up to her name and marrying her boring neighbor Daniel Long to meet expectations of gender norms set up in pioneer times. Instead, she disguises herself as Freddy, a boy, and leaves the family farm in New Hampshire with her brother Gideon to forge a new life in the wilderness of western New York. Ostrom effectively contextualizes the discussion of societal limitations imposed upon women within the story’s well-drawn historical setting. For Harriet, her male alter ego provides her with a protective armor and a sense of limitless potential, while it also starkly highlights gender inequity. A complicated courtship in the wilderness plays out like Pride and Prejudice with a western backdrop, but the ending bucks tradition to set up a refreshingly level-headed ever-after that is steeped in reality and feels true to the journey.
Imagine the Oregon Trail as a love story. If you can, then you’re probably going to love Ostrom’s debut, The Beloved Wild. Set in 1807 New Hampshire, readers will follow Harriet “Harry” Winter as she navigates womanhood, farm life and pioneer life. Ostrom’s narrative hits just the right notes of humor, distress and romantic drama. If you’re looking for an adventure this spring, do yourself a favor and read The Beloved Wild.
–4 out of 4 Star Review on RT Book Reviews, Christin Gest, Romantic Times
Gr 7 Up–Life in Middleton, NH, in 1809 is not easy. Sixteen-year-old Harriet Winter and her siblings must till the land, chop the wood, make clothing, and endure the long, harsh winters. When her neighbor, Daniel Long, shows an interest in her, willful Harriet toughens herself against his kind gestures. As she watches his attention turn toward the fancy Goodrich sisters, she becomes resentful and makes the rash decision to leave home with her stepbrother, who is journeying to Western New York, where he plans to take part in the pioneering movement. Once on the road, Harriet chops off her hair and disguises herself as a boy in order to avoid the perceived limitations of her gender. Her adventure introduces her to a colorful cast of people, shocking human behavior, and unexpected mishaps. Nineteenth-century New England is beautifully depicted through straightforward prose, giving readers an accurate sense of life during this period. Landscapes of rolling streams, dense forests, and blistery snow are backdrops to a narrative in which a charismatic protagonist recounts her daily experiences and the questions she has about her life. Harriet’s modern flair for feminism adds a welcome departure from the patriarchal themes that dominate this era. Reminiscent of the works by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this charming novel is an enjoyable reflection on women’s roles, romance, and the power of choice. VERDICT A worthy addition to middle school and high school libraries.
–Karin Greenberg, Manhasset High School, Manhasset, NY, School Library Journal March 2018