Boston Jane: An Adventure
(The Boston Jane series, Book 1)
Jennifer L. Holm
Fiction, YA Historical Fiction
DESCRIPTION: Miss Jane Peck's life in mid-1800's Philadelphia was a carefree one, playing with the boys in the streets and sometimes helping her doctor papa with his patients... at least, until Sally Biddle's nasty comments made her realize how little like a proper lady she was, how unlikely she was to find happiness. When her father takes on a new apprentice, handsome young William, she feels her inadequacies all the more acutely. It takes a few years of hard studies, but Jane finally seems to be getting the hang of etiquette, the importance of knowing how to serve a proper cup of tea, and the horrors of showing one's ankles in public or committing the Great Mistake of allowing a young man a kiss without a wedding ring involved. Surely, despite Sally's ongoing barbs, she's a worthy bride for a young doctor like William! Only William's decided to pursue a fortune in timber, traveling to the remote Washington Territory. Still, she has his promise in writing.
At Shoalwater Bay, after a horrific voyage full of fleas and terror and tragedy, Jane disembarks to find... nothing. No city or town, save one filthy trading post. No Society, unless a gaggle of barefoot, immodest savages and unwashed traders count. And no William - who, for some reason, has been sent by the territorial governor on an unknown assignment deeper into the wilderness. A settlement like this has no place for a lady whose chief accomplishment was winning an embroidery contest at a finishing school. What is she to do, until her would-be husband comes back? And what if he doesn't come for her at all?
REVIEW: This is a quick-reading tale of adventure and hardship and finding oneself even in the most difficult circumstances. Jane starts out terribly impressionable and obtuse, letting Sally's barbs and William's vague encouragements override her beloved father's influence and her own nature in pursuit of proper ladyship. She clings to the promise offered by her finishing school handbook, that a woman's purpose is to find happiness by making others happy, like a life raft as one catastrophe after another upends her dreams. Indeed, it takes several proverbial mule-kicks to the skull to get anything through her head, though to be fair teen girls can be exceptionally stubborn. It still was a little trying to read, though. Holm's research lends a sheen of authenticity to the challenges of frontier life, particularly her interactions with the local Chinook tribe. The story starts fairly quickly and maintains a fair degree of momentum throughout, though the ending felt a little abrupt. It only lost a half-star due to Jane's occasionally-irritating stubbornness, both at the beginning (as she resolutely ignores her Papa and vital clues related to him) and the end. I might consider reading more in the series.
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