Amazing: The Wilder Life
** The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure will be released on April 14, 2011 **
I make it no secret that I love Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Little House Books were my favorite growing up and I’ve read every one multiple times. In fact, I will still break out Little Town on the Prairie or Little House in the Big Woods on a rainy day. I remember learning that the books weren’t completely true and being kind of sad about it until I started reading about – and really liking – the “real” Laura and her family. I found it fascinating that she had had an infant brother who died, that her family ran a hotel that isn’t mentioned in the series, that she would have been far too young in some books to remember her family’s time there. I became obsessed with the true story – Laura, the family, the places she lived, the friends she had, the era she lived in. In elementary school I begged my parents to take a vacation where we would recreate the family’s journey west – from Pepin, WI, to the Kansas prairie, onto the creek in Walnut Grove, MN and finally to DeSmet, SD. But the closest I got was seeing where Carrie (her sister) lived as an adult. I was disappointed in my parents, to say the least.
As an adult, I once visited my cousin in Milwaukee and insisted we drive clear across the state of WI to see Pepin, where Laura was born. My 22 year old male cousin was such a good sport. We made the long drive, just to see a small replica log cabin and a pretty crappy museum. But I was pretty thrilled.
Ok, so I’ve gotten a little derailed from my post. The point is that I am still pretty fascinated with Laura Ingalls Wilder, so when I was offered an ARC copy of The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure, I nearly died. Wendy did exactly what I’ve always wanted to do – she visited every Little House historic spot and really got inside what she calls “Laura World.” But even if you’re not a Little House fan, this book is terrific. Wendy is nutty and fun, her boyfriend Chris an awesome sidekick, and together their crazy journey is a hilariously narrated page turner. Even if you’ve never picked up Little House on the Prairie, Wendy’s story is touching, funny, and unexpected.
Wendy read the books as a child and loved all things Little House. If I’d known Wendy when I was little, she would have been my best friend. She played all the little house games I used to play and longed to do the things Laura described in the books, just as I had done:
I wanted to live in one room with my whole family and have a pathetic corncob doll all my own…I wanted to do chores because of those books. Carry water, churn butter, make headcheese…I wanted to go out into the backyard and just, I don’t know, grab stuff off trees, or uproot things from the ground, and bring it all inside in a basket and have my parents say, ‘My land! What a harvest!’
The Wilder Life begins with Wendy’s childhood love of all things Little House, but then we see her today, living in Chicago and dealing with her mother’s illness. When her parents move to their dream home, Wendy ends up once again with her childhood collection of the Little House series. Dealing with her mother’s death, she begins to reread the eight books and reminisce about her childhood and her love of all things Laura. She makes vanity cakes and sourdough bread and even orders a butter churn online. One of my favorite passages in the book is when her boyfriend is leaving for work and tells her to have a good day off and she responds, “It’s not a day off. I have to churn butter!” After some successful butter churning, they spend a weekend on a homestead with a bunch of loons, see a few replica log cabins, endure a hail storm in South Dakota (“What about the crops?!”), and do a little wading in Plum Creek.
This book is much more than just a narration of visiting the places where Laura Ingalls Wilder once lived and once wrote about. Wendy’s journey goes beyond Laura and butter churning and life sized Ingalls family cloth dolls. Wendy’s journey starts with Laura, but ends with something much different. But in true Laura style, alls well that ends well.