Like most little girls in the 1970′s and 1980′s, I fell in love with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I can’t remember what came first for me, the books, or the television series Little House on the Prairie, but all I know is that I fell for Laura, and I fell for her hard. Just look at me back in my glory, wearing my prairie girl wanna-be braids. I coulda’ been an Ingalls sister, but instead, I was just a little girl from the ghetto.
Somewhere between Laura’s tomboy charm, her tough but joyful life, her poverty and her rich nemesis Nelly, I was hooked. I identified and loved Laura Ingalls as if she were really my best friend, both on the page and on tv. (I also identified with Mary, but that story has already been told on this blog.) Not only was I a fan of the books and tv show, but so was my bipolar mother. There weren’t many things my mother and I could share in our chaotic, dysfunctional lives, but we bonded over Half-Pint Ingalls. I’ve never lost my love for LHOTP, and last summer, I even had a Little House on the Prairie week on this blog, writing about my favorite ghetto LH moments, and even reviewing the memoirs of , Melissa Gilbert, Alison Arngrin, and Melissa (Sue) Anderson.
When I heard that there was a writer out there who went on an adventure back in time to Little House on the Prairie days, I was literally shaking with joy. (Thank you Lydia!) For years, I have been dying to go on my own LHOTP trail, visiting Laura’s world. I’ve been to South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota, but somehow never managed to see a single historical site. To say that I am jealous of Wendy McClure and the journey she’s been on, recapturing her childhood memories of the little girl we both loved is an understatement. Despite my jealousy, I will tell you that I honestly LOVE what Wendy has done with The Wilder Life. Not only has she went on the trail, visiting everything Laura, but she goes as far to do fun things like hand-grinding wheat to make a loaf of Long Winter bread the way Laura would have, and buying an authentic churn to make her own butter. She even went so far as to pour homemade syrup on fresh snow to make candy like Laura and Mary did.
I read this book over a span of many months, mainly because I could not bear to see it end. I had to stop halfway through and was unable to read it for an entire month, because I was crying like a baby. I cried because I loved Laura like the sister I never had, and I cried because I now love Wendy and what she went through personally while on her quest. I cried because when I eloped a few years ago, we had no room for all of my things, so I gave away all of my LHOTP books to charity. I cried because I felt guilty over this, and then I cried again when I found a complete set of books online and bought them. I cried when I was able to finally place them on my crowded bookshelves, where they belonged. I managed to start reading this book again, and then I cried because I had a hard time trying to recapture my own lost childhood and innocence. I’m crying right now as I write this review, because not only am I sad that life will never be as simple as it was during the 1970′s and 1980′s when I was living in Laura’s world. I also cry because I know in my heart that I am not a good enough writer to be reviewing this book, especially since I am having major writer’s block right now.
The Wilder Life dives into all sorts of Laura-related things, and not just personal reflections and points of view from Wendy. She writes about the big LHOTP debates, such as the group of people who never read the books, (Why haven’t you if you fall into this group?) and how they only know Laura and the gang through the television show, so when they visit the historical sites, they are a bit bewildered. Wendy brings about the important facts about how the timelines in the books don’t match up to historical timelines, making many of us wonder, were these books historical fiction, or semi-autobiographical?
Wendy McClure is the type of memoir writer that you instantly fall in love with–she’s funny, enthusiastic, sincere, and easily relatable. Plus, she’s a damn fine writer, killing me with her words:
“They gave me the uncanny sense that I’d experiences everything she had, that I nearly drowned in the same flooded creek, endured the grasshopper plague of 1875, and lived through the Hard Winter. It’s a classic childhood delusion, I know, and in my typically dippy way I tended to believe that the fantasy was mine alone, that this magically past-life business was between Laura and me and no one else. Surely I was the only one who had this profound mind-meld with her that allowed me to feel her phantom pigtails tugging at my scalp; I had to be the only one who was into the books that much.”
And, “I don’t have a sister, but for a time, while growing up, I had Laura Ingalls.”
If I ever get to meet Wendy McClure (I am dying to meet her and praying to god that she will attend Book-Expo America this May), I will desperately have to restrain myself from giving her a gigantic hug. (I don’t want to come off as creepy, especially since I know I’ll also be crying like a big, fat, 40-year-old baby.) The Wilder Life one of those books you take to bed, read all night, and makes you laugh and cry. When you wake up the next morning, you don’t even mind how exhausted you are, because the book you read was a book well worth reading. Wendy McClure has written a book so instantly beloved by me, she’s made her way into my heart and made herself my new author B.F.F. She has wit, and charm, and most of all, she is unapologetic about wanting to discover EVERYTHING about Laura Ingalls Wilder, no matter how nerdy or weird it might seem to others. This is a woman who not only managed to step into the world of her favorite book, but she also got her man to read the LHOTP books and come along with her on many of her prairie trail adventures. What woman can get her man to do that? (I know I can’t!) Seriously, how could you not help but fall in love with her and the book she’s written?
Visit Indiebound to pre-order your copy of The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure now.
THE WILDER LIFE GIVEAWAY – 1 LUCKY WINNER WILL WIN A COPY
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+1 MORE ENTRY: Comment here and tell me why you need to win this giveaway! Do you enjoy reading memoirs? Are you a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie? Did you identify with Laura, or even Mary, like I did? Do you enjoy reading in general, or, do you just love winning free stuff?
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Contest ends Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at midnight. Good luck to you all!