Book Review: Upside Down in a Laura Ingalls Town

A unique coming-of-age story with real characters, real history, and lots of heart, Upside Down in a Laura Ingalls Town is a captivating read. 

Ever since Brooke Decker’s mother died a year ago, she’s been spiraling out of control—and doesn’t even realize it. Her father does, and comes up with an unusual solution to get her away from alcohol, sex, and bad influences and back to herself and the family: they’ll participate in a reality show set in 1861. No booze, no pot, no piercings. No phones, electricity, or toilets, either.

Though her ten-year-old sister, Rebecca Lynn, is thrilled at the idea, Brooke wants nothing to do with it. In one of the more touching scenes in the book, a rare  moment of connection with her dad shows her how important this is to him, so she reluctantly agrees. Over the course of the four-month show, Brooke learns a lot more than how to wear a corset and milk a cow.

The author captures the voice of a teen, and especially a teen trying to find her way, perfectly. Anyone who knows a teen will recognize her immediately; and those who feel they don’t understand today’s young folks will gain insight by the end of this novel. Brooke’s father and sister are also well drawn, although Rebecca Lynn is a little too “good” for a typical ten-year-old sister.

The amount of research the author obviously did to recreate life in the mid-nineteenth century backcountry is impressive. She portrays enough fascinating detail to keep you grounded in the setting without overdoing it. The one thing that misses the mark is that the person they’re supposed to be living like—Laura Ingalls—wasn’t even born for another six years after 1861. The lifestyle was basically the same, so it doesn’t take anything away from the story.

A revelation by Brooke’s father in the middle and a twist at the end add surprise elements to Brooke’s struggles.

Poignant and funny by turns, Upside Down in a Laura Ingalls Town touches the heart through both the tears and the laughter.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Connie Ryle Neumann on September 2, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    This sounds a bit like “Little Blog on the Prairie” (c2010) and PBS’s “Frontier House” rolled into one. Like you said, the author missed the mark for the 1861 year setting but the time period connection will still be there, I suppose. Thanks for posting!

    Reply

    • Yes, still outhouses and drawing water from the creek.

      I think the author chose that year because she included among the “town” a family who owned a couple of slaves. This did add to the story, but of course couldn’t have been done in a LIW year, as slavery was abolished by then.

      I never watched either of the shows you mentioned, but think you’re probably right.

      Reply

      • Posted by Connie Ryle Neumann on September 2, 2018 at 9:14 pm

        That’s good to know about the slavery aspect for 1861 North Carolina, which adds a dimension that LIW doesn’t address specifically in the LH books.

        “Little Blog on the Prairie” was a YA book by Cathleen Davitte Bell. A teen and her family go to a camp (in Wyoming?) that has everyone living the pioneer life but the teen sneaks in her iPhone to keep in touch (and complain!) about the pioneer camp life.

        The other PBS reality series “Frontier House” was filmed in Montana as 3 modern family units stepping back to homesteading circa 1870s, quite like this book you presented. I have a copy on VHS but I’m sure it’s on DVD by now.

        This also is a similar premise of a teen in the YA book “Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life” by Shelley Tougas (c2016-17).

        Poor LIW gets blamed for all the dysfunctional families in today’s society!

      • It was funny to me that in the Upside Down, one character addresses the fact that LIW never lived in NC, but not that the year was off, too. Still, the story wasn’t really about LIW so I considered that a minor detail.

        I’ll have to check out the book/shows you mention. It seems people are waking up to the fact that, nostalgic as we may sometimes be for the “simple life,” it wasn’t really that simple. I credit LIW (and Rose) with making it seem so rosy.

      • Posted by Connie Ryle Neumann on September 3, 2018 at 12:46 pm

        When I consider how Laura (and Rose) wrote the LH books, the time period setting, the time period of the writing, and the children’s audience they were written for, I understand completely why some of the hardships of living weren’t described. The descriptions of WORK and LIVING were featured and highlighted- not the personal/feminine hygiene which was NEVER written about in children’s books (the only scene that gets kids a-twitter is Almanzo’s bath in Farmer Boy!). However, in my children’s programs I feature the hard work of making everything from scratch or by hand – and kids marvel and “get it” when they “wash on Monday….churn on Thursday….” in the activities.

        I think this would make a good panel discussion for LP19 – maybe for educators and for writers of children’s historical fiction.

        Keep the ideas coming!

      • I can understand why some things, like hygiene, were not mentioned. What strikes me is that with all the descriptions of WORK – and there was a lot of it – we (society) still think of the time as easy and simple. It wasn’t either of those.

        Great idea about the panel! Let’s see, what educators/children’s authors do we know… 😉

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