Roger Lea MacBride’s Little House: The Rose Years Series (Books 5 – 8)

As I mentioned in my post about the first four books in MacBride’s series, I decided to reread the series as I found myself in need of a counterbalance to the heaviness that comes with reading Crime and Punishment and a nonfiction book about human evolution. In my eagerness to share my thoughts on the books, I became a bit longwinded and had to cut the post into two parts. This part, the second, covers the final four books in the series.

684559‘Little Town in the Ozarks’ (Little House: The Rose Years #5) by Roger Lea MacBride. Fiction — print. HarperCollins, 1996. 336 pages. Purchased.

After the Wilder’s farm was damaged by a tornado in On the Other Side of the Hill, the Wilders made the decision to move to the town of Mansfield with Rose’s father working as a dry goods hauler and her mother accepting boarders into their home. This decision marks a big change in the direction of the series because, in the last four books of the series, Rose never returns to living at Rocky Ridge Farm full-time.

In this book, though, Rose is still mourning some of the freedoms she had on the farm. In town, her mother insists that she wear her shoes and stockings at all times in order to appear respectable to the gossipy neighbors. Rose also loses touch with her friend, Alva, as Rose spends less time on the farm and more time with the town girls whom Alva hates. And Rose struggles with the realization that some friendships are based in place and time rather than true affection.

But living in town also allows Rose to spend more time with Paul Cooley, whom Rose has developed a crush on, and it is difficult not to cringe as it becomes clear that both Rose and Paul will get their heartbroken over young love. That said, I do remember being more devastated by Paul’s failure to notice Rose on earlier reads. I guess that’s what time does to a reader.

On a similar note, it was interesting to read about Laura participating in a town debate about whether the Indian or the (former) slave are worse off in America. Laura advocates passionately for the plight of Native Americans, whom she says where forced off their land through no fault of their own. This argument is completely counter to what was presented in Wilder’s books as the viewpoints of her mother and father, and I found myself wondering how factual this event was.

If that’s truly what Laura said, then she took a complete 180 from the viewpoints in her own (fictional) accounts of her childhood. (Of course, I can’t be too hasty to praise her since she makes the incredibly racist and ill-informed argument that slaves were happy to be taken care of by their owners in her debate argument.) If it’s not, then I have to wonder how much whitewashing MacBride did to make his politics align with those of the Wilders.

129793‘New Dawn on Rocky Ridge’ (Little House: The Rose Years #6) by Roger Lea MacBride. Fiction — print. HarperCollins, 1997. 378 pages. Purchased.

The twenty century dawns in Mansfield, Missouri just as Rose becomes a teenager and starts to exert her independence from her parents. She longs to be put into long skirts – the sign of adulthood for females – and starts flirting with a traveling salesman after she makes friends with one of the wealthier girls in town, Elsa.

This budding friendship as well as a buggy accident involving one of the Wilders’ borders, an old maid named Miss Sarah, forces Rose to learn a hard lesson about the important of a woman’s reputation. This is the novel where Rose truly comes of age, where her puppy love for Paul grows into something more, and where she learns to cope with difficult losses and figure out how to blaze a new path when one closes for her.

One of the difficult losses is the death of Charles Ingalls, Laura’s father and Rose’s grandfather. MacBride switches from Rose’s point of view in order to follow Laura back to South Dakota. While the chapter is moving and heartfelt, it unfortunately interrupts the flow of the story in a very unnatural way. I felt like I was reading two separate novels, and it was hard to reconcile them back together as MacBride switches tone and style for these chapters.

That said, this is probably my favorite book in the series. While the first one captures the spirit of Wilder’s series and the second and third books have the feeling of coming home, this one was the book where I felt like Rose steps out of her mother’s shadow. She becomes her own character rather than yet another adventurous, spirited farmer’s daughter.

129792‘On the Banks of Bayou’ (Little House: The Rose Years #8) by Roger Lea MacBride. Fiction — print. HarperCollins, 1998. 232 pages. Purchased. 

As I mentioned in my post about first four books in MacBride’s series, I bought what I thought was the complete series as a kid. It was only when I pulled the books off my shelves and started to arrange them in order that I realized I had never read the seventh book in the series, On the Banks of the Bayou. I’m not sure how that happened, but I was glad to see the public library had a copy so I could rectify that mistake.

In this book, Rose is now sixteen and has traveled from Missouri to Louisiana to live with her Aunt Eliza Jane. Neither Laura nor Manley have kind things to say about Eliza Jane, and they are still upset about how her “guaranteed money making” rice farming plan lost all of her father’s money. But they want Rose to have every opportunity to further her education at the high school near Eliza Jane after they could not afford to send her to local finishing school.

I wonder if they would have changed their minds if they had known Eliza Jane would be taking Rose to socialist rallies, conscripting her to hand out pamphlets on street corners, and encouraging her to go courting with a much older man. Much of what occurs in this book appears to run counter to what Rose’s parents would want for her, but the events also help lay the ground for the independent person Rose will be come in the eighth and final book.

In that regard, I do wish I hadn’t accidentally skipped this book as a kid. It could have added a lot of context to my understanding of Rose as a young lady. But it was one of the weaker books in the series for me.

At the beginning of Little Town in the Ozarks, MacBride’s daughter included in a note saying that her father passed before he could finish the series. His daughter and the publisher HarperCollins found rough drafts for the final four books in the series, and this book definitely reads like a rough draft. The events are laid out and the narrative flows easily, but the emotions behind Rose’s decisions are missing. It was more of a tell rather than show kind of story.

129790‘Bachelor Girl’ (Little House: The Rose Years #8) by Roger Lea MacBride. Fiction — print. HarperCollins, 1999. 243 pages. Purchased. 

In the eighth and final book of the Little House: The Rose Years series, seventeen-year-old Rose returns to Mansfield, Missouri after graduating high school in Louisiana. She is eager to see her parents and reunite with Paul Cooley, but Rose finds it difficult to return to life on the far after experiencing life in the big city. She decides to travel to Kansas City and study to become a telegraph operator like Paul in the hopes that earning her own money will allow them to marry quicker.

Unfortunately, Rose’s plans go awry: the telegraph school is a shame, no one wants to pay women as much as they go men, and the clientele of the boarding house where Rose is staying is tarnishing her reputation. Distraught but unwilling to go home, Rose travels to San Francisco and starts a new life there as a telegraph operator for the stock market reports. Yet, her new-found friendships, her continued interest in socialism and Eugene V. Debs, and her autonomy as a “Bachelor Girl” puts Rose in conflict with Paul’s perception of women and the life her parents lead.

The reviews of this book are absolutely scathing on GoodReads; people declare Rose to be a selfish woman unworthy of the wholesome mantel that the Little House female characters carries. They hate her choices, particularly for what happens between her and Paul, and proclaim that her mother would be ashamed of her, which seems particularly odd to me given that our understanding of Laura and of Rose are based on fictional accounts. (The real Charles Ingalls was not the brave, moral man that Wilder presented in her series, after all.)

This was never my favorite book in the series; that’s pretty clear given how unbent and unblemished the spine is. Yet, in the many years and many changes to my own life since reading this book, I’ve come to realize that Rose should be admired rather than derided for her choices.

Here is a young woman who moves across the country to chase her dreams, who elevates her economic standing through hard work and her own street smarts, and who realizes that marriage to the man she loves would stifle her character and independence. She does not follow the path her parents have laid out for her, and I can see why that would be upsetting if one picked up this series hoping to capture “the good old days”.

Rose’s story is actually a fitting end to the story of “America’s favorite pioneer family”. The West was largely settled at this point in Rose’s life; people lived in big cities and communicated quickly thanks to technological advancement. And Rose, who came from a long line of outspoken women curtailed by society’s expectations for their roles as wife and mother, found her own voice.

That said, this still isn’t my favorite book in the series. As with the preceding book, this reads like an outline rather than fully constructed chapters. Events are stated without much detail, and the ending feels particularly rushed. Worse, the man Rose does marry quickly interjected into her life without much feeling or attachment fostered for the reader. So, no, not my favorite of the series – but it has nothing to do with hating Rose!

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