Free Land by Rose Wilder Lane
reviewed by Deb Houdek Rule
The Homestead Act promised people “free land” if they lived on it and worked it for five years. This book by Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura and Almanzo Wilder, is about the enormous price of that free land.
Though Rose clearly draws her source material from the experiences of her parents and grandparents, she tell a far different tale than that of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. I always visualize this story as being that of a young couple living on the far opposite side of town from the Ingalls. One might expect to see Pa, Ma, and Laura in the distance walking down the street, but this is not their story. Many tales you may read about in biographies of Laura are told here in fictionalized form.
“Free Land” is somewhat darker than the Little House books, and is an adult’s story (though nothing is terribly inappropriate for younger readers, very young children may not care for it) with some of the harsher aspects of the pioneering life shown more vividly. It is also told from a young adult male’s point of view, and so deals often with his struggles to be a responsible provider for a growing family–you can see both Almanzo Wilder and Charles Ingalls in him–while balancing against his desire for freedom and adventure.
Rose and Laura were very different writers and, in reading this book, you’ll probably find yourself doubting–as I do–the claims that it was Rose who really wrote the Little House books. Their styles are too different. Rose Wilder Lane is a fine writer in her own right and this book, and her others, are well worth reading.
“Free Land” is a worthy novel in its own right, and as a supplement to the Little House books it is a fine reading experience.