My particular youthful literary obsession wasn't Laura Ingalls Wilder, although I did read all of the Little House books at least once and watch the first few seasons of the TV series they inspired (in first run - I was 10 years old, prime Little House-reading age, when the show debuted in 1974); mine was Louisa May Alcott. Nevertheless, I can relate to Wendy McClure's girlhood immersion in what she came to call Laura World, and Im rather relieved to discover that I wasn't the only avid young reader whose favorite literary characters became regular residents of her inner life.
While her devotion to the Laura legend fades as she enters adolescence, Wendy rediscovers her love for the books when she unexpectedly comes across her old set while packing up her parents' house, and reading them again as an adult inspires her to learn more about the woman who wrote them. The Little House books are fictionalized memoir, with some disagreement over exactly how fictionalized they are; despite any controversy there, their vivid descriptions of frontier life and depictions of a simpler time have given them new popularity among home-schooling families.
Seeking a better understanding of who Laura really was, and why so many people embrace her story as they do - as well as something else she really can't define - Wendy decides to explore Laura World beyond the books, testing recipes from The Little House Cookbook, teaching herself to churn butter, and making plans to visit the various places Laura and her family lived.
As Wendy takes readers - and her very supportive boyfriend, Chris - along on her odyssey, she recaps the Ingalls/Wilder family saga, discusses the various points of contention between the stories and various biographies, and shares her impressions of the people and places that comprise what remains of Laura World today. The writing is reflective, revealing, engaging, and often very funny. The Wilder Life will particularly resonate with any reader who has engaged in a long-term literary or cultural obsession of her or his own (which I suspect covers quite a few of us), and I'm glad I took this trip with Wendy McClure.