On one level that premise seems a bit trite, but in practice Pioneer Girl gets it right.
I've had this title bookmarked (read: lounging on my Amazon wish list, because capitalism has thoroughly subsumed my life and ambitions as a reader) since Meg reviewed it as an ARC. The blend of fact and fiction makes an interesting premise for a book, and it's done in a really light-handed way. Lee's life and family problems have that touch of reality to them, where things aren't always clearly defined and problems (including research problems) aren't always "solved" in any sort of final way. On the other hand, you have convincing fictional research about real women, positing a secret baby given away for adoption. You learn about the careers of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane (real), the Lien family history (fiction), and the Vietnamese/Asian experience in the Midwest (real), while Lee researches Rose's secret baby given up for adoption (fiction). It's really well blended, where a couple of times I flipped back to read the author's bio just to remind myself that Beth Nguyen is not Lee Lien and therefore it's probably not totally scandalous to be revealing Rose's baby in a novel.
|Right, I'd better go study this some more.|
In her review, Meg writes "I had some feelings about Rose’s secret child, but I Had Feelings over the improper archival methods." It's true. Lee steals a few things during her research and I had to put the book down at one point, this was so upsetting to me.
Judging from novels, literature scholars think nothing of stealing documents from archives. APPALLING. #posession #pioneergirl
— Julie (@jfount) June 15, 2014
There should be warnings on books that feature scholars doing this kind of thing. I was made happy again, however, when one of Lee's friends points out that she's going to have trouble publishing anything based on stolen materials. THANK YOU. It gets glossed over a bit (at the end, Lee's working on an article but it's not clear how she's going to get over the theft problem) but my eternal thanks to the author for acknowledging this. One thing I liked, otherwise, was how realistic Lee's research was: she's drawing plausible conclusions but you can see how thin the evidence is even as you are drawn along with agreeing with her interpretations.
I picked this book up and finished it the same day, which is a testimony to how good it is. It does a great job linking "American" and "non-American" experiences, collapsing those categories along the way: the mobility of immigrants and pioneers, the drama of success and failure along very small margins, the strain these things place on family life, and the difficult expectations created for the next generation.