So, this book is the best book I’ve picked up this year. Yay!
It almost gets a 5-star rating. (But I NEVER give out 5 stars. Well, hardly ever.) And what’s weird is that I was hesitant to even read this book in the first place. But, once I started, well…
So what would I rate this book? 4 1/2 stars. Which is an amazing star-rating from me. Folks, it’s practically 5 stars!
Well, instead of 5 stars, I’ll give 5 reasons why I loved this book…
Caroline // by Sarah Miller
#1 – It’s Faithful to the Old
What makes this such a wonderful book is that it stays true to the original. Sarah Miller’s Caroline is a parallel novel to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. Miller calls her book a “marriage of fact and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s fiction.” Let’s stick to LIW’s fiction for the time-being. If you are familiar with Wilder’s work, you may know that she fictionalized some of the events from her life… For the sake of story. (Probably with the help of writer/daughter Rose Wilder Lane who helped her edit the books.)
And I agree with her that story trumps history when it comes to novels. And that’s what LIW’s books are: novels. Well-crafted works of fiction. With a wonderful foundation of history.
But Caroline, like the Little House books, also stays true to history. In spite of the fiction, the history of the pioneers shines through.
#2 – …And the New
Which brings me to the “new stuff”. Or the stuff that didn’t make Little House on the Prairie.
The main event in Caroline that stands in contradiction to the original Little House books is the timing of the birth of Baby Carrie. Miller follows the historical record for this one; Carrie Ingalls was indeed born on the Kansas prairie. Which means… Some of the things that happen in the story are all that more amazing when you realize that Caroline was pregnant during this time! Like the building of the house? The event with the well? Talk about strong, pioneer women… Go, Ma!
To tell the truth, one of the most memorable moments in the original book is where Laura demands that her Pa get her the little, black-eyed “Indian” baby to have as her own. Reading this scene in Caroline takes on a whole new meaning. Here’s Laura, about 4-years-old. She knows that her ma just got a baby (out of nowhere). Suddenly, Laura’s desire for a baby of her own makes just that much more sense. And since she has no idea where Baby Carrie came from… well, why not want a baby that is right before you?
#3 – The Difference in POV
It was amazing to read this story, which I know so well, from a different point of view. Instead of experiencing this adventure through the eyes of a little girl, we get to see it all from a mother’s perspective.
And not just any mother, but a pregnant mother, heading away from family and friends. A mother who wants her children to grow up to have a proper education. And they’re moving to a place where there will be no schools! A mother who has her own fears, hopes, and desires.
One of the wonderful examples of the differing POV is the story of Mr. Edwards on Christmas Eve. Again, retold from a mother’s perspective of not having anything to make her children’s Christmas… Powerful.
#4 – It’s a Pioneer How-To
One thing I loved about the original Little House books is all the “how-to” information. Like digging a well, and building a house, and… well, everything. When I first read these books, I ate this stuff up. It made me feel like I could be a pioneer if it came down to it. I could dig my own well, and I wouldn’t make the same mistake as Mr. Scott. No siree!
And the “how-to” of Sarah Miller’s Caroline is also there, albeit in a different way. We don’t just get a rehash of Wilder’s descriptions. While Laura and Mary had plenty of time to shadow their Pa, watching his every move, Caroline doesn’t. She has plenty of her own work to do. And so, the book focuses on her view point. On the bits of how-to that effected her.
Which made by adult heart so happy. And yes, it makes me feel like I could be a pioneer if it ever came down to that.
#5 – No Politically-Correct Revisionism…
Just for the sake of being Politically Correct. And finally, I loved the fact that this book did not fall into some politically-correct retelling. It documents the prejudices of the settlers, warts and all. Now, I love that the book doesn’t condone it (which is a good thing!), but it documents it… like a good historian. Miller does have Caroline struggling and questioning her own fears and reactions. But, ultimately this book remains true to how the Ingalls family (and others like them) saw the world around them. The historian in me was pleased and satisfied with her treatment of the material.
(Mini Rant. I HATE books/movies/etc that attempt to make the people in history as “tolerant” as we are. First off, I have a feeling that we have our own little prejudices for which future generations will mock us. I feel that history should be told as it is. Not that we condone the prejudice. No, I don’t mean that. But when we acknowledge that the past, just as the present, and the future for that matter, isn’t and never will be perfect.)
I love the cover of the book! Although, I will say it reminds me of Caroline as played by Karen Grassle from the television show. The real Caroline would probably have been wearing a sunbonnet!
And finally, a Warning. Yes, this book is a reworking of a famous children’s book, but that doesn’t mean it’s meant for children. It’s meant for adults, folks. There are a couple sex scenes. Of course, we’re talking married sex. If you can get that into your head. (I know. Weird, right? It’s a little hard to go there with characters that are kind of like your own parents.)