The Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder have ignited sparks of imagination in young readers for generations. Wendy McClure was one such child, smitten with Wilder’s depictions of life on the prairie. As an adult, her interest in the series was renewed when she came across an old copy of one of the books in a box earmarked for her parents’ garage sale. Months later she began re-reading the series and embarked on a plan to visit the real-life Little House on the Prairie historical sites.
McClure delves deeply into the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, recounting endless facts and figures about the author and her family. In her memoir/research piece, The Wilder Life, McClure searches for real life connections to Laura, carefully picking out the gems of truth, and separating them from the fictional embellishments of Laura’s life story as depicted in her books. She tries to see the world as Laura saw it, experimenting with period recipes and even trying her hand at churning butter, in addition to traveling around the country in search of tangible bits of “Laura World.”
In her travels, McClure sometimes gets into humorous situations, is sometimes frustrated with her lack of connection to Wilder, and is sometimes simply transfixed and charmed by what she finds. Her descriptions of the various sites, as well as the people she meets along the way, are personal and very real. She is a likeable and engaging narrator.
As much as I enjoyed the author’s voice and found her story intriguing, I was often lost in a maze of dates, locations, and minute facts. A simple time line at some point in the book would have been immensely helpful. I couldn’t quite figure out McClure’s method of organization, as she jumped from one part of Wilder’s story to another, and then back again. While I think this book is a must-read for an avid Little House on the Prairie fan, I found myself wishing The Wilder Life was more streamlined and easier to follow.
Alysia lives in Metro Detroit with her husband and four children. She writes about family life, parenting issues, and other things of interest to her on her blog, Michigal.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Riverhead. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.