What Jenny's Reading











{October 15, 2014}   Review: Little Town on the Prairie: Mean Girls on the Prairie Part II: Prairie Harder, Pt. I

When we last left the Ingalls family, they had finished defying nature yet again at the end of winter. Now they’re back on the claim and things couldn’t be more perfect, to read Laura’s description.

Except for the mice, of course. Their house is full of them, so they get a tiny kitten to hunt all the mice and gophers in Pa’s corn field. This kitten (creatively named Kitty) becomes famous for being a dog ball-buster. People came from miles around to “set” a dog on Kitty, and watch Kitty fight and try to rip the dog to pieces. I guess fun still hasn’t been invented, and neither has the concept of animal cruelty.

On the homefront, Pa seems to have learned a lesson or two from his previous fiscal irresponsibility, and is working in the actual town rather than spending money he doesn’t have yet and then needing to walk two hundred miles to find real work. He’s still pretty well acquainted with foreshadowing, though, and remarks that Mary can go to her college for the blind so long as nothing bad happens to the crops. Countdown to crop failure in three…two…one…

Laura takes Mary walking every morning, and they chat. I really like their interactions in this book; it reminds me of me and my sister, as when we were little we fought horribly but as we got older we became close friends. I always love sisterly bonding. They talk about Mary’s possible schooling, and Laura thinks she doesn’t want to be a teacher but will, to help pay for the college.

You know what’s so awful about all this? I read these books when I was about seven, and Laura and her sisters seemed so very old to me. Now that I’m re-reading, I realize that Laura is actually just about fourteen here. I have a cousin who’s fourteen. I know times were different then, but geez. Laura should be daydreaming about boys and studying, not thinking about becoming a teacher so she can help pay for her sister’s college. I mean, I’ll admit that when I was fourteen I desperately wanted to have a job, but that was because I was an idiot and didn’t understand what a job really was. I thought you showed up places and people gave you money for it. I didn’t consider all the actual work involved. And Laura does back breaking hand sewing work for weeks to earn nine dollars, and finds out that Ma is going to use the money to buy materials to make Mary’s dress and hat. SERIOUSLY. HOW EXPENSIVE IS THIS DRESS EXACTLY.

Then they make the dress, and there’s a whole conversation and fuss about whether hoop skirts are going to come back in style. They all have no idea, and I guess if Mary’s not in the latest, most stylish outfit, she’ll be a horrible outcast and make no friends. DO THESE PEOPLE REMEMBER THAT SHE IS GOING TO A COLLEGE FOR BLIND PEOPLE. NO THEY DO NOT.

Or maybe they do. The dress is brown. Ugh. What is with these people and their obsession with the color brown? Laura wears brown all the time. Just…ugh. I know they can wear real colors! They talk about blue and pink and so forth later on. Was brown stylish? Was it all they could afford? Seriously, if it were me I’d be so pissed that my hard work paid for a fugly brown dress.

Okay, let’s get off the dress. Let’s talk about the crop devastation! At least this time it’s not really because of Pa’s lack of foresight, like with the grasshoppers. (I will NEVER get over that stupidity. Never!) A bunch of blackbirds start eating the crops, and he shoots a bunch of them, and says maybe they should eat the birds. Then Ma makes a pie with them, like a chicken pie but with blackbirds, and Pa acts all impressed, like he can’t believe her ingenuity. I can’t decide if Pa’s really that dumb, to think this is impressive to swap out one type of bird meat for another, or if he’s mocking her. I’m leaning toward dumb. My evidence is, I have read every other book in this series.

Pa does something smart, though, and sells one of his cows to make sure Mary goes to college. Yay for education!
Oh, there is one thing I found sort of funny. They buy Mary a trunk to pack her things for college. Ma tells Mary that (1) it’s the latest style of trunks; and (2) it’ll last her a lifetime. I don’t actually doubt this. What makes me laugh is, Ma is so obsessed with style (and the girls, to a somewhat lesser degree) that I feel certain if burlap sacks came back into fashion she’d toss the trunk into the fire and buy those. So who cares if it lasts a lifetime?

And for Mary’s last supper at home, they make cottage cheese with onions. Gross. That would make me run as if from a burning building. Maybe Ma didn’t want Mary to miss home too much while she was away?

Oh, and Mary does thank Laura, for the nine dollars and all her help. Aw. Like I said, I love sisterly bonding.

After they leave to see Mary to school, Laura decides they’ll do the fall housecleaning, as a surprise for when Pa and Ma come home. What follows is the most difficult week of her life. I really feel for her here, because she and the other girls are trying to do something nice and helpful, and they continually fuck it up. I think that’s a feeling we’ve all had at some point, right? Luckily, though, they manage to get everything sorted properly before Pa and Ma come home, and Ma, at least, is super grateful for what they did.

(As an aside: the fuck is political economy? Is that like a Tea Party thing?)

Laura and Carrie start school again. They are terrified, because they think the kids won’t remember them after less than a year away. But then Laura sees her friends Mary Power and Minnie Johnson, and is so very happy to see…Mary Power. I guess Minnie Johnson can go eat a dick, or something. Burn, Laura. Ice-cold burn.

But then who should show up, but Nellie freaking Oleson. I read that Nellie Oleson isn’t a real person, but a fictional character that the real Laura Ingalls made up to stand in for several of her rivals throughout her life. That makes sense; it would defy credulity that the same awful girl would essentially follow her around the prairie for years (“Why are you so obsessed with me, Nellie?”). Anyway, it turns out that Almanzo’s sister Eliza Jane is a shit teacher, and a Nellie minion to boot. They try to make Laura’s life miserable, but because Laura is a pleasant and fun person, and they are not, the whole thing turns into a schoolhouse mutiny that’s only stopped when the school board visits. Instead of firing Eliza Jane, they tell the students to behave. Man, Eliza Jane must be so happy she’s teaching on the frontier rather than in modern times, when helicopter parents would eat her alive and demand her head on a stake. Oh, and Laura writes a mean little song about Eliza Jane that everyone sings. She feels super guilty about this. Don’t, Laura! Keep on being your awesome self.

I swear, Mean Girls was a modern adaptation of these books with fewer details and a more satisfying resolution. No one can convince me otherwise!

The worst part about the school stuff is that Ma and Pa tell Laura to grit her teeth and keep a stiff upper lip, and that maybe Eliza Jane and Nellie Oleson aren’t so bad, and she should feel sorry for their lot in life. Hell no! They are mean, bad bitches, and deserve what they get. STAY STRONG, LAURA.

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