Published by William Morrow on September 19, 2017
Source: the publisher
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A September Indie Next Pick
One of Refinery29's Best Reads of September
In this novel authorized by the Little House estate, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, "Ma" in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books.
In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls and her family leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the warm bosom of her family, for a new life in Kansas Indian Territory. Packing what they can carry in their wagon, Caroline, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril.
The pioneer life is a hard one, especially for a pregnant woman with no friends or kin to turn to for comfort or help. The burden of work must be shouldered alone, sickness tended without the aid of doctors, and babies birthed without the accustomed hands of mothers or sisters. But Caroline’s new world is also full of tender joys. In adapting to this strange new place and transforming a rough log house built by Charles’ hands into a home, Caroline must draw on untapped wells of strength she does not know she possesses.
For more than eighty years, generations of readers have been enchanted by the adventures of the American frontier’s most famous child, Laura Ingalls Wilder, in the Little House books. Now, that familiar story is retold in this captivating tale of family, fidelity, hardship, love, and survival that vividly reimagines our past.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Last year, I spent hours at Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri and cried when I saw Pa’s famous fiddle. I couldn’t help it. The Little House stories are the ultimate in comfort reads for me. I am so in love with the Ingalls Family’s time on the frontier and how well it was documented for us to revisit again and again.
Earlier in the year, when I saw that this book was going to be published, I could barely contain myself. I flailed, I fidgeted, I couldn’t wait to read it. In literally one second, Caroline by Sarah Miller immediately shot to the top of my most anticipated reads list. I needed to see things from Caroline’s point of view.
The book begins in 1870, as Pa and Ma, Mary and Laura are leaving the woods of Wisconsin for the prairie of Kansas. If you’re like me and Ingalls-obsessed, then you likely know the bulk of the story as Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote it, but Author Sarah Miller has mixed the fiction that we know from the Wilder’s Little House books and real-life fact based on research to show us this portion of their tale thru Caroline’s eyes. Caroline’s perspective on this trip is everything. Caroline, as the mother and wife, was the glue that held this family together.
Right away, we get to witness Ma’s perspective on leaving behind her beloved family and her large support group of women in Wisconsin – this broke my heart a little and opened my eyes to the differences in Ma Ingalls’ story versus how I always assumed she was just as excited about the trip as Pa and Laura. We witness what it was like for Caroline to ride in a wagon for an extended period of time (over approximately-700 miles – can you imagine doing that as a pregnant woman?) and then we experience along with her the nerves that she felt when they finally got to “Indian Territory.” (As many of us know, Ma had feelings of racism and fear toward Native Americans, and that is evident in this book as well since it was part of her life.)
Some of my favorite scenes from the Ingalls Family’s story are included, only now from Caroline’s perspective, and I couldn’t help but smile while I was reading. Some favorites of mine are when Caroline helped Charles build their home once they arrived in Kansas (yes, still pregnant!), how she helped Charles rescue their neighbor from the well (still pregnant!), and how Caroline felt about a stranger coming to assist her during childbirth with Carrie because there was no one else, unlike the large community of women they left back in Wisconsin. I loved these moments so much in this book.
It is wonderful to be able to experience Caroline’s grief over leaving Wisconsin turn into joy at the bounty and hope of their new home in Kansas. I believe that the feelings that Caroline experienced were very normal and real, and I can say this because I’ve experience somewhat similar feelings over large moves before, except the circumstances are clearly not the same. Caroline’s emotions are very in line with what ours are today despite the difference in time period, and I love being able to finally learn this about her. I love how strong and real she is, yet also vulnerable to many of the same feelings and issues that women are today. Whether she is a favorite character or not, I think she is very relatable since we have her perspective; I personally adored getting to put myself in Caroline’s unique position as she had to make that long wagon trip and start up her new home on the frontier.
I cannot stress exactly how much Caroline by Sarah Miller is a true treat. After reading the Laura-centric Little House books, I feel like that children’s historical series is also almost an adventure-series. This book has a quieter pacing, and it is very nice. This book very much carries the perspective of an adult-Caroline who was valued as the center of the home, who was beloved by Charles, who knew she had very little privacy with her husband but took advantage of that time anyway. Caroline was a wise women, and independent, and she had her own thoughts. She knew when she needed to share them, and when it was best to just lead her family by example.
I love the familiarity of the setting, the people, and things like Pa’s fiddle, the shepherdess, the delaine. If you’re already familiar with the Ingalls’ story, then you’ll smile when you read about these things too. If this is your first time reading anything-Ingalls, I hope that one thing you take away from this is that the author has obviously researched well and loves this subject matter. I should point out, just to be clear, that this story is historical fiction but that it is based on tons of research. The Author’s Note is exceptionally interesting.
As for me personally, there is always a little bit of trepidation when I start a book that I’ve anticipated so heavily. Will it hold up to my hopes? Once I read just a few pages into this one, I realized that I didn’t need to worry at all. Caroline by Sarah Miller is one that I’ll be rereading over and over, just like other Ingalls-related stuff that I often revisit. In fact, I’ve already purchased the audiobook for a reread/listen.
This is another book that I’ve made room for on my top shelf, and I would have gladly kept reading if this book had more pages.
ABOUT SARAH MILLER
Sarah Miller began writing her first novel at the age of ten, and has spent the last two decades working in libraries and bookstores. She is the author of two previous historical novels, Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller and The Lost Crown. Her nonfiction debut, The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century, was hailed by the New York Times as “a historical version of Law & Order.” She lives in Michigan.