Synopsis from Goodreads:
Pioneer Girl follows the Ingalls family’s journey through Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, back to Minnesota, and on to Dakota Territory sixteen years of travels, unforgettable experiences, and the everyday people who became immortal through Wilder’s fiction. Using additional manuscripts, letters, photographs, newspapers, and other sources, award-winning Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill adds valuable context and leads readers through Wilder’s growth as a writer. Do you think you know Laura? Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography will re-introduce you to the woman who defined the pioneer experience for millions.
You might call me a Laura Ingalls Wilder fangirl. You might even go so far as to call me a “Bonnethead” (look it up – this is actually a thing.) If I could have, I would have been at the first two “Laurapalooza” events held in Minnesota in 2012 and 2013. If I could, I’d go to the one being held this year.
I mean, I first read an actual biography of LIW back in my early teens – Donald Zochert’s book, Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder (a fantastic book with a horrible cover). I’ve read articles, and books, and… I should probably stop now before I embarrass myself any further.
Suffice it to say, most of the information in Pioneer Girl wasn’t new to me. To a certain extent, it felt as if I were reading something I’d read many times before, because it’s been referenced so often in the biographies that I’ve read. Much of the information included in the annotations was also read previously.
Still, that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a worthwhile book to read. For more casual LIW fans, it will be interesting to read the differences between the fictional Ingalls and Wilder families, and the real life ones. For more avid fans, it’s fantastic to actually have a “real” copy of Pioneer Girl (copies have floated around on the internet for a while, or you could pay for photocopies from the Herbert Hoover Library in Iowa, where the originals are housed) and to have all of the photographs.
Because of the way the book is set up, I did find it hard slogging at first. The original Pioneer Girl manuscript was written longhand, with no chapter or section breaks. Pamela Smith Hill, this version’s editor, has divided the book into sections of time and/or place. But with the annotations alongside the text, rather than as endnotes to each section, I found myself feeling like I should read each annotation as they came up. And there are a LOT of annotations. I mean, a LOT. Like, more than the actual text (some of them were REALLY superfluous, but that’s just my opinion.) I was getting really frustrated, because it was impossible to get into any kind of flow. I was also starting to get really dejected, wondering if maybe my beloved Laura really wasn’t as good as I’ve always firmly believed.
But then I decided that I would read an entire section, and THEN go back and read the annotations for that section. Of course, every once in a while I’d be curious, and have to read a note, however for the most part, I found it a much smoother read after that.
Some of the appendices also seemed a bit excessive, for example the reproduction of the “Juvenile Pioneer Girl” manuscript, typed and edited by Rose Wilder Lane. I found myself skimming by the point, as in the sections about the Benders, a Kansas family of serial killers, whom LIW included in later drafts of Pioneer Girl, even though evidence would suggest that it might be more “truth” in the way of Lane’s biographies of Jack London or Charlie Chaplin (hint: they were more “based on a true story” than actually true.)
I think one of the most valuable parts of this edition of Pioneer Girl is that, given it is taken directly from Laura’s first draft, we can see for ourselves that Laura was quite a capable writer on her own. Yes, it’s a first draft, and I know that I would be horrified if any of my first drafts were published in this way, and it can be a bit jerky at times, going from memory to memory like bouncing down a dirt road in a buggy drawn by Barnum (if you’ve read the books, you’ll get the idea), but then you get a line like this:
Later in the day, when the sun shone warmly, little reddish brown and black striped gophers would pop out of their holes in the ground and sit straight up on their hind legs with their front paws down close at their sides, so motionless they could hardly be distinguished among the grasses and if seen looking like a stick stuck up in the ground. (Page 231)
and you just know it’s Laura: she makes the ordinary seem so vivid. Especially after reading this book, I don’t believe for a second that those descriptive passages all came from Rose. She may have had a heavy hand in editing and forming the books, but I believe that it was her mother who wrote them.
Rating: 4.5/5 very heavily biased stars
Buy it on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Chapters/Indigo, Barnes and Noble (no e-book versions available) NOTE: As of this writing, the book is sold out on all sites, but orders are being taken for when the next print run is completed.