Two books have recently been published called Pioneer Girl, one of which is the “annotated autobiography” of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I haven’t gotten my hands on this book yet, but as I understand it, the book consists of Wilder’s manuscript on which the Little House books are based as well as other manuscripts, diaries, and letters. Clearly, as one who was obsessed with the Little House books as a child (and I mean the BOOKS, not the television show, although I watched that too), I’m going to be reading this.
But I wanted to mention how much I enjoyed the other Pioneer Girl: a novel by Bich Minh Nguyen. This one is also about the Little House books but from an entirely different perspective. It tells the story of Lee Lien, child of Vietnamese immigrants, who has moved back in with her mother and grandfather after finishing graduate school. She helps them run their restaurant while she half-heartedly looks for an academic job. In her mother’s house she comes across a gold pin that has always been a part of family lore: an American woman named Rose left it or gave it — it was unclear which — to her grandfather back in Saigon in the 1960s. When Lee discovers the pin, she realizes that it’s exactly like the one described in These Happy Golden Years, the one that Almanzo gives to Laura as a gift. Well, those of you who know the books will realize what Lee realizes — that it’s possible the woman named Rose was Rose Wilder Lane and that the pin was actually the one in the Little House books. Of course, Lee, with all her recent research training, has to investigate further.
The novel takes Lee deep into the history of Laura and Rose, and along the way she thinks about the parallels between their lives and her own. Lee’s family is a pioneer family in its own way, as immigrants to the U.S., and while not a pioneer in the sense her mother was, Lee too has to forge her own way as a member of the first American generation. Lee finds comfort in the complicated relationship between Laura and Rose as she tries to make sense of her own relationship with her difficult mother. As with so many other readers, Lee finds that the Little House books have shaped the way she thinks about the world and about her life. However, in her case, it’s possible that she has a much closer connection to Laura, through Rose, than any of the rest of us. It’s enough to make any Laura Ingalls Wilder fan very jealous.
So, for all you readers as obsessed with the Little House books as I was, here are two more books to enjoy!