Young Pioneers // by Rose Wilder Lane (and kind of #20BooksofSummer !)

//published 1933//

This slim book packs a very emotional and inspiring story into its short length.  It had been many years since I last read this book, and even though it didn’t take me long to read, I’ve still been thinking about it since I finished it.

I loved the book from its opening line – While they were children playing together, they said they would be married as soon as they were old enough, and when they were old enough they married.  Although, as the story progresses, we do find out that what they considered “old enough” was a bit on the young side for our modern lives – David is only 18 and Molly 16 when they not only marry, but head west in a wagon, leaving behind everything and everyone they’ve ever known, at a time when that leaving meant that you would, more than likely, never see these loved ones again.

Molly is the quiet, thoughtful one of the pair, while David is confident and exuberant.  His favorite hymn includes the lines –

Let the hurricane roar!
It will the sooner be o’er!
We’ll weather the blast, and land at last,
On Canaan’s happy shore!

The original title of this story was Let the Hurricane Roar, and despite the complete lack of actual hurricanes (although we get a healthy dose of blizzards), the theme of standing firm and confident in the face of extreme adversity is really the foundation to the entire story.

The young couple find a homestead, which, according to law, they must live on and improve for five years, and then the land will be deeded to them.  At first, all is going well in their snug dugout, as the wheat crop is beautiful.  But tragedy strikes so completely that David has to go back east to find work.  Molly is determined to stay behind on their claim so that they don’t lose their year’s work.

I’d forgotten how much of this story that Molly actually spends alone, with an infant, in the wilderness.  Despite her quiet nature and inherent timidity, she is amazingly steadfast and inspiring, determined to do what has to be done to claim their homestead and build their life.  The writing is somewhat sparse, but it honestly reflects the overall feeling of the vastness of the prairie and the miles and miles of emptiness.

Because this book was initially published as a serial story in Saturday Evening Post, it is told in four long chapters.  Usually I much prefer short chapters, but because the book itself is so short, the long chapters made me feel like I was galloping through the story!

Rose Wilder Lane is, of course, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the beloved Little House books.  When Lane published Young Pioneers in 1933, only Little House in the Big Woods had been printed.  So the tragedy with the grasshoppers, later recounted by Wilder in On the Banks of Plum Creek, does sound familiar to those who have read the Little House books, as Lane is obviously drawing a great deal from family history for her writing.  Lane’s characters were also originally named Charles and Caroline, which are the actual names of Lane’s grandparents (Wilder’s parents).  When the book was republished and renamed in the 1970’s, the character names were changed as well, probably because by that time Wilder’s entire series had been published and was very popular.

Although this is a book of hardship, it is also a book of hope and strength.  It’s a wonderful reminder of the struggles and obstacles that people were facing a mere century or so ago.  Molly herself is a true heroine, perhaps especially because she doesn’t do anything particularly heroic.  She doesn’t save anyone’s life or change the tides of a political upheaval.  Instead, she just lives – steadily, bravely, doing the best she can under incredibly difficult circumstances.  Molly is the kind of heroine who truly inspires me, a reminder that we don’t need a grand stage to do our part to make the world a better place.

NB: This book was originally chosen for my #20BooksofSummer challenge.  Even though I failed to read all 20 books this summer, I am still planning to read them!!