Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Charlotte and her siblings, twin brother Freddy and younger sister Rose, have lived a rather nomadic life, subject to their mother's next whim or troubles. Charlotte doesn't even bother trying to make friends anymore, knowing that she will soon be uprooted and have to move someplace new; she and Freddy have each other and don't need anyone else, and Rose easily makes friends anywhere she goes. Their mother's latest whim has taken them to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, where she believes the spirit of Laura Ingalls Wilder will inspire her to write a book. But this move turns out differently, as Freddy suddenly makes new friends and Charlotte feels abandoned, betrayed, and angry at everyone, especially Laura Ingalls!
Naturally the title of this book caught my attention, having read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and grown up with Melissa Gilbert's portrayal of Laura on the television series, but I really didn't know what to expect. Despite some of the other lukewarm reviews, I really enjoyed this book, and I think many tweens could relate to some of Charlotte's angst. In my opinion, the story was well-paced and the characters were generally well-developed (if I had one small criticism it would be that Rose's voice often seemed a bit too mature for the age of the character).
I felt a great deal of empathy for Charlotte, having no stability in her life and always being subjected to her mother's whims, or skipping town to avoid debts or difficult situations, and the hopelessness she expressed when explaining how there was no point in making friends or being invested in school because she knew they would soon be on the move again was heartbreaking. Even more so was her unfairly being accused of a crime after she had finely started to open up, make friends, and like living there. This story deals with many facets of tween angst: being the new kid, fitting in, making and maintaining friendships, relationships with siblings, difficult relationships with parents, and having a single parent who, while loving, is often self-centered and selfish.
I found myself frequently angry with Charlotte's mother, at how flaky, irresponsible and selfish she was, refusing to seriously consider how her decisions and lifestyle affected her children, preferring to gloss over everything with pollyannic platitudes. She clearly loved her children, but was too immature and self-centered to see how much she was hurting them. However, I loved the character of Charlotte's teacher, Mrs.. Newman, and how she turned out to be far from the meanie that Charlotte initially judged her to be, and even risked her job to stand up for Charlotte and protect her rights, in addition to nurturing her intellect and helping her to open up.
I found this story to be richer and deeper than many middle-grade books that often feel superficial and simplistic; it has some serious emotional upheaval and drama, but without being too dark. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy realistic fiction with a little family drama and complex relationships, and those who might also have dealt with moving frequently, being the new kid and having trouble fitting in and making friends, and parents who don't always consider their needs. I think this could be a good book choice for a tween book club as well, and I like how it ties into a classic series that most people know. Some would also be happy to know that it also brings up the mistreatment of Native Americans, and some of the racist comments made by Laura and characters in her books.
Shelley Tougas has written several other middle-grade books, both fiction and non-fiction, including Finders Keepers and Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration.
[I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
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