Kelly Kathleen Ferguson grew up, as this reviewer did in a previous generation, reading the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. And as many did, she embraced the stories and the harsh life of the pioneers.
When Ferguson reached an impasse in her life where she felt she was in a rut and needed to evaluate her present life and plan better for her future she instinctively turned to the tales embodied in the Little House on the Prairie books to give her guidance. My Life as Laura is the tale of her inner and outer journeys to discover the truth of who Laura was and how her path may still be relevant today.
Ferguson is a bit casual with some of her information. She mentions seeing a group of Amish in a minivan, which couldn't be, as the Amish do not ride in automobiles (the group must have been Mennonite) a point that could have been easily verified with a little Googling. Yet you must admire her dedication in searching for Laura—she even donned a prairie dress to help fit her mental viewpoint into Laura's life and experiences. Ferguson details some of her relationship woes and dead-end jobs and, in doing so, relates to the reader the lessons that she garnered from the Little House books.
She speaks of societal ills: the negatives of government choices back in Wilder's time and their struggle to understand such concepts as the Homestead Act; the constant uproar over Indian migration; and frequent moves of Ma and Pa Ingalls through the Midwest in search of their own dream. Wearing her prairie dress she visited the public areas in several states where the Ingalls lived like Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Coming to grips with the realities presented by the written word and by the visit to Laura's past she had to accept that Laura did not write the books alone, that Pa's "homesteading" in Independence, Kansas was in violation of the Indian treaties in place at the time of their occupation of the land, and that the family never really knew success and contentment anywhere they went.
Ferguson's wry self-depreciating sense of humor is sometimes jarring, but always provocative and interesting. Going along with her, via this memoir, on her travels and seeing the pioneer spirit through her eyes is enriching, regardless of how the reader may feel about Ferguson's own love life, job choices and wanderlust. She includes a "Selected Bibliography" at the back of the book for those who might want to explore more fully the Laura story as well as the other books that Ferguson refers to in her book. She is an intriguing writer with strong skills in expressing herself and her path. I hope there will be more of her work as she continues to refine and temper her writing strengths.
Kelly Kathleen Ferguson's work has appeared in mental_floss magazine, Poets & Writers, the Gettysburg Review (for which she received a Pushcart nomination), McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and Brevity, among other publications. She has an MFA from the University of Montana, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in creative nonfiction at Ohio University. You can find more information about Kelly and her works on her website.
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