Book Review – A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

This weekend, I devoured A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert. I think I started it on my Thursday morning commute and finished it by Sunday night. I loved it for many reasons and highly recommend it.

About the book:

The Little House books, which chronicled the pioneer adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder, are among the most beloved books in the American literary canon. Lesser known is the secret, concealed for decades, of how they came to be. Now, bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert reimagines the fascinating story of Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, an intrepid world traveler and writer who returned to her parents’ Ozark farm, Rocky Ridge, in 1928. There she began a collaboration with her mother on the pioneer stories that would captivate generations of readers around the world.

Despite the books’ success, Rose’s involvement would remain a secret long after both women died. A vivid account of a great literary deception, A Wilder Rose is a spellbinding tale of a complicated mother-daughter relationship set against the brutal backdrop of the Great Depression.

I picked up the book because I was very interested in reading Pioneer Girl, the annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder that was also released this year, but it is quite expensive and not available on Kindle. I’m still interested in reading it, but mainly because I would like to see the differences in Laura and Rose’s points of view. I also picked it up because I grew up with the Little House books and they are one of the reasons I have always wanted to be a writer. So here are the reasons I loved this book:

  1. It makes me want to read more by and about Rose Wilder Lane. The book only covers Rose’s life from around 1928-1939, but her life before and after that time was also fascinating! Rose escaped farm life at only 17, but she didn’t just make it to the big city. She traveled all over Europe, mainly spending time in Albania, but also France, Germany, and parts of Russia. She also wrote and wrote and wrote. She wrote about her travels and politics for magazines and she wrote biographies for interesting people of her time like Herbert Hoover and Charlie Chaplin. Many of her writings are now not so easy to find and are not available digitally, but I would love to read them.
  2. It makes me want to read more by and about other women writers of her time – which makes me a little mad. Rose was traveling and writing and friends with many other famous and influential writers of her time. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis are all name-dropped in the book, but so are many women I had never heard of. Helen Boylston, Genevieve Parkhurst, Catherine Brody, Mary Margaret McBride, Norma Lee Browning and others mentioned in the book were all best selling authors in the early and mid-20th century…yet not one of these women were on my reading lists as I was getting my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature. Granted, 20th century literature was not my focus, but I was still forced to take enough classes in the era to have read all the famous men mentioned above, but not the women. The way women have been systematically erased from history just gets my blood boiling.
  3. It taught me a lot about the time period. Again, the 20th century (especially America in the 20th century) is not my focus, but I do love history, so it was interesting to learn more about the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the New Deal from a first-person account. But it also took a bit of world history at that time into consideration as well. As I mentioned, Rose was extremely well-traveled. She was also very well-informed. This was also a turbulent time in America and in Europe, since the Great Depression was one of the main causes for WWII. It frames the book as not just what was happening to one family in one place in one time, but contextualizes it with what was happening in the rest of the world, which made it much more relevant and interesting.
  4. It’s a book about writing. As a writer, it is important to read as a reader, read as a writer, and also read about writing. The book shows the pleasures and the pains involved in being a writer, but mostly the pains. Being a writer is not an easy life – which most writers will tell you but most non-writers will never believe. At one point, Rose is trying to tell her mother just how difficult the life of a writer is, and she says:

    It was, I think, a moment of truth for her. Writing isn’t magic, it’s work; earning a living as a writer means showing up at the typewriter every day, whether you feel like it or not. I understood her dilemma: she had to choose between the farmwork and her writing, and that was hard.

    But reading about the hardships she faced while trying to be a writer and watching her succeed was very encouraging. I am feeling very energized to work more on my own projects right now.

There are probably more reasons why I loved this book, but this post is long enough. I hope those are enough reasons to convince you to pick it up. Long story short, 5 out of 5 stars.

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