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My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself Kindle Edition
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|Length: 200 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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But what comes in the book is absolute magic. The writing is at once stellar and completely accessible. The story unfolds like the best of fiction, so that I could hardly stand to put it down. It's a simple enough premise: At a standstill in life, Ferguson decides to make a journey, hoping to discover herself along the way. And of course, it starts with a very modern problem: What to wear? When that issue is finally resolved with a compromise involving a zipper and the color blue (Mary's color, not Laura's), the author remembers her childhood heroine's mantra, "It couldn't be helped," and she sets off on her journey.
After sixteen years of waiting tables with the memory of her bachelor's degree fading into the distance, "...a plot tumbled out of my mind like an unexpected child - a bit daunting, but impossible to put back." She decides to retrace the steps of Laura's coming of age, hoping to find her own path forward. She begins by traveling to Pepin, Wisconsin, where she engages in an internal monologue on the sensibility of going around the Midwest in a period prairie dress. But luckily, people in Laura Country have come to expect fans in period clothes and most of the visitors to the Pepin museum didn't find Ferguson's appearance odd in the least.
With the skill of a practiced storyteller, Ferguson weaves in relevant details of her own childhood with the stories of Laura's growing up including a hilarious chapter in which Ferguson rehashes her disastrous first attempt at writing this story: Little House in the Suburbs. But even after this dismal failure, like her heroine, Ferguson perseveres. The Laura books were so important to her as a child she insisted on having her school picture taken with one of the books in hand. She knows there must be a lesson in all this and she's determined to find it.
As a reader, I was swept up by Ferguson's plight. I could relate to her dismay in reaching the ripe old age of thirty-eight without a career or a relationship in sight. I couldn't help but admire her pluck in choosing this unconventional way out. But life is never as simple as that and along the way Ferguson often wonders if there is any point to the journey at all. Without an alternative, she keeps going and tells the stories from the road with care and much good humor. I caught myself wishing she had taken "My Manly" (a romantic interest she met in Montana before beginning the journey) with her, but the story isn't about him, although Ferguson takes care to explore Laura's courtship and relationship with her Manly, the steadfast Almanzo Wilder. Like Laura and Almanzo, Ferguson discovers unexpected consequences of her journey along the way. "Deep down, I knew that My Manly wasn't My Manly, but just Another Manly."
This book is fascinating, well researched, written with a clear and colorful voice and contains a near-perfect story arc. For those of us who grew up with a book in one hand and a head in the clouds, we know this story even if we're unaware of its relevance at times. My Life As Laura is a love story not only for Laura, but to the importance of books and stories in our lives and also a tale of a woman's journey of self-discovery. I cried at the end, which combined with the many laughs along the way make it a nearly perfect book in my opinion. If, like me, you grew up with a box set of books more precious than a security blanket, you will enjoy Ferguson's story.
I first came across Kelly when she responded to a blog post I'd written about naming my daughter after Laura Ingalls Wilder. Clicking on the link to find out more about this commenter, I discovered her book, "My Life as Laura" and I was immediately intrigued. I couldn't wait to read it and was relieved to find that it was available in the UK as a Kindle download, even if not (yet) as a printed book.
Unhappy with the way her life was shaping up (more than a decade as a waitress is not the graduate's dream career ), Kelly self-prescribed as a cure a road trip retracing Laura Ingalls Wilder's footsteps. Although she had the advantage of a car over a covered wagon, she was determined to bond more closely with Laura by - get this - wearing her "Laura dress": a nineteenth-century style, flouncy, floral frock. This much attention to detail takes a special kind of courage.
Indeed, every aspect of her adventure took guts, as did the candour with which she recounts her journey. From page one, I was rooting for Kelly and enjoying her company immensely. Astute, perceptive, witty, sensitive, poignant, life-affirming, nostalgic (for her own childhood, as well as Laura's) - her narrative is all of these things.
To this English reader, the scale of her journey was unimaginably vast, bowling along for days across endless, monotonous prairies, alone but for the theoretical presence of Laura, via the yellow boxed set of her books that Kelly has treasured since childhood.
As well as being honest and open about herself, Kelly is an entertaining and spirited observer of others. Her wry descriptions of gift-shop assistants at Laura-themed tourist attractions had me laughing out loud. I sincerely hope these passages haven't deterred the shops' managers from stocking Kelly's book on their shelves of Laura-related merchandise - I'm sure it would be a best-seller.
I also relished Kelly's encounter, in her Laura dress, with a group of Amish tourists in similar garb. (I've been a bit obsessed with the Amish too, ever since visiting their part of Pennsylvania, at the age of 8, when I came away with a fetching green bonnet all of my own. But that's another story - or perhaps there's the germ of a sequel in there for you, Kelly?)
This, Kelly's first book, is clearly the one she was born to write. Her easy, flowing prose is highly engaging and I'd love to read more of her work. Is it too much to hope that one day there may be a yellow boxed set with her own name on the spine? Let's hope so, for the sake of (would-be) Lauras everywhere.