Westlake Girl – Review

“I could do anything the boys could do. Usually better.”

Westlake Girl tells the story of Freida Wampler. Growing up in the early 1900’s in a small village on the coast, Frieda loved spending endless hours in the water, both on and in. She learned to sail at a young age and was an effortless swimmer.

Free from the constraints of what society deemed appropriate, Frieda grew up believing in herself and knowing what she wanted. Even when she faced the sexism common for that time, she still pushed forward, becoming an example for strong, fearless women everywhere.

“Other kids told of monsters that chased them through strange dreamscapes. My dreams were usually realistic. I won races. I led adventures. I overcame obstacles.”

A charming memoir, told in such an approachable cadence, it reads like a story. It’s easy to imagine a young Frieda running barefoot through the woods or swimming through the deep river. Since this is a memoir, it is told in the first person, but rather than use the past tense, Frieda regales her tale from the voice of her childhood self. This makes this book one that can be enjoyed at a multitude of ages, and while younger readers will find it easy to digest, the details of the time will entertain adults as well.

I can easily see this turned into a chapter book series. The childlike wonder and no nonsense frontier attitude rings so clearly in Freida’s voice. I’d love to see her brought to life more in a way that helps teach kids about this piece of American history in the West.

“Along the Oregon coast, even the poorest families could feed themselves with no more than a garden, a rifle, and a fishing pole.”

Westlake Girl is a glimpse into the past. It takes the reader back to the early days when the West was considered wild and free. Anyone who grew up near Oregon, or in Oregon, will quickly fall in love with this story. The landmarks and history are familiar, which only adds to the enjoyment of this window into the past.

I’ll admit that perhaps this book hits closer to home for me than it may other readers. Both my grandparents grew up in different parts of Oregon during the same time, and this book constantly reminded me of them. Partly because of the familiarity of places I was reading about, but mostly it’s the fierce, independent spirit of Frieda that reminded me of them. Even though this book is not their childhood, I still felt that connection to them, and it endeared Freida to me all the more.

I am grateful to my friend for introducing me to this book, and to Freida’s son, Larry Wampler for sending me a copy to read. History is usually remembered for the big changes and landmark events, but it is stories like these, individual tales of everyday living that are the most important to keep that history alive.

People like Frieda and her family are the men and women that pushed West, that built a life from nothing but the land around them. They are the ones who gifted us the possibility of a future. Times have changed, but our ability to persevere and move forward is embedded in the strong roots of our past. It’s vital to remember that, and it is through stories like this that we will.

“Two forces have shaped my life: change and love. I still don’t like change. but change comes and goes. Lucky for me, the love has been constant, so I can accept the change with a full heart.”

As I write this review, I am saddened to learn that Frieda passed away on August 22, 2018. She was 99 years old. If you are interested, you can visit her obituary to learn more about Frieda, her life, and her legacy.

You can also find Westlake Girl at all your favorite retailers.

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Westlake Girl: My Oregon Frontier Childhood is the true story of a spirited girl coming of age in an isolated village on the Oregon coast from 1928 to 1936. It portrays the artless feminist strivings of a capable girl who dreamed of a career in the Coast Guard on the merit of her skills as a boat pilot and champion swimmer. Frieda’s triumphs (taming a harbor seal as a pet, winning swim races against older boys) and disappointments (exclusion from the Coast Guard “for no better reason than that I was a girl”) will resonate with modern women who still meet obstacles – some natural and some arbitrary – to having it all.

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