Little Blog on the Prairie
by Cathleen Davitt Bell
May 11, 2010
Borrowed from Library
Synopsis (from Publisher): Gen's family is more comfortable spending time apart than together. Then Gen's mom signs them up for Camp Frontier--a vacation that promises the "thrill" of living like 1890s pioneers. Forced to give up all of her modern possessions, Gen nevertheless manages to email her friends back home about life at "Little Hell on the Prairie," as she's renamed the camp. It turns out frontier life isn't without its good points--like the cute boy who lives in the next clearing. And when her friends turn her emails into a blog, Gen is happily surprised by the fanbase that springs up. But just when it seems Gen and family might pull through the summer, disaster strikes as a TV crew descends on the camp, intent on discovering the girl behind the nationwide blogging sensation--and perhaps ruining the best vacation Gen has ever had.
So this book? Totally adorable. I don’t usually stay up past my bedtime to read a middle grade book, but that’s what happened the other night as I raced to finish and see what the ending was going to be. If you ever watched Frontier House or just dreamed about what living on the prairie like Laura Ingalls might be like, you’d probably enjoy this one.
I really liked Gen as our narrator. She moaned and complained like any thirteen year old girl, but her complaining never slipped into ‘just grow up already’ territory or got on my nerves. It probably helped that she had a lot to complain about - I’d complain too if I were dragged to a summer long farming experience without being able to brush my teeth or check my email, and I’m into historical interpretation! She’s smart and observant and manages to find the humour and absurdity in her own situation - trying to pump herself up by singing Beat It to the corn or accidentally peeing on her stocking because she can’t make herself use the outhouse. Which is where the blog comes in, of course, as Gen texts her observations to her friends back home using a smuggled in cell phone and one of them (they never appear except by text so I can barely distinguish between them) posts her texts on a blog for her computer science summer school class.
Gen’s family is also a well-developed combination of characters. At first I was a little concerned because her father’s defining characteristic seemed to be being afraid of bears and her mother’s was a determined cheerfulness in spite of all reality. But as the book continued - and Gen matured a little and began to see more clearly - her parents emerged as three-dimensional characters in their own right. Gavin, her ten year old little brother, became one of my absolute favourite characters with his epic fishing prowess and attachment to the family chickens. I really enjoyed watching Gen and Gavin’s relationship develop from one of benign neglect into a real partnership and friendship between the siblings.
Camp Frontier itself made me stare and mutter things like “there is NO WAY their insurance company would allow this.” When the campers arrive, they’re fed a communal supper by the camp owners and then bundled off to their separate farm plots with no training, no instructions, just a “go to, cook on the wood stove, farm that corn, and kill those chickens! Here’s some cornmeal and possibly rancid salt pork! And, oh, by the way, you’re being graded!” Obviously the book’s scope wasn’t to question the insane decisions (or insurance premiums) of the insane owners, but I kept wanting to tell them that if they attached a week of instructions on how to actually perform the tasks being asked, the families would probably have a much better time of it!
The other camp families (there are four total) were an amusing combination of survivalists, a newly blended family trying to coalesce, and parents trying to give their little girl the vacation of her dreams. We don’t get to know the other families as well as Gen’s of course so they’re mainly sketched in, but the narrative manages to make them all seem real as they struggle with similar issues of farming and feeding their families with limited provisions and a woodburning stove. The other children become more major as Gen and Gavin bond with them over the insanity of the camp and their attempts to perform 19th century chores. I also enjoyed the sweet developing relationship between Gen and Caleb, the hot felt hat-wearing neighbor boy.
This review sounds overly gushing, and I suppose that it is, but it was a very cute book that never pretended to be more than what it is while portraying a very different type of summer vacation from the more normal beach reads. Gen grows up a lot over the course of the book, and the reader gets the pleasure of seeing how this changes her and her relationships to her family and community. I’d definitely recommend Little Blog on the Prairie.