Sunday, September 29, 2013

Little Blog on the Prairie

The title: Little Blog on the Prairie
The author: Cathleen Davitt Bell
Publication: Bloomsbury, 2010
Got it from:  The library

Gen is just an ordinary 13-year-old when her mom signs her family up for a summer at "Camp Frontier," where the participants all have to live 1880's-style.  Like any modern teenager would, Gen hates it at first.  Forget the cuddly version of prairie life, with Melissa Gilbert running through a sunny field.  The real frontier was non-stop labour and no modern comforts.  Gen's only respite is the phone she snuck into camp, which she uses to text her friends back home.  Unbeknownst to her, her texts are turned into a blog that goes viral.  

The author clearly, clearly used the PBS show Frontier House as an inspiration (right down to the preparedness contest, the starving dad and the little boy crying over killing chickens).  I watched that show this summer, and I couldn't help making comparisons - more so than to the actual Little House on the Prairie series.  If anything, this book drives home just how much frontier life would have sucked.  Hard.  I doubt I could have lasted a month there.  And there's no sugar-coating it for Gen: everything - from the nastiness of the outhouse to near-starvation to the mind-numbing hard work of hand washing laundry to the cramped, primitive living space - sounds like a slightly sunnier Soviet Labour Camp.  No wonder Gen practically passes out in ecstasy when she discovers a secret "electricity shack" complete with Internet and Diet Coke.

Then there's the relationship between Gen's family and the three other families living in Camp Frontier.  There's a love interest for Gen - a boy named Caleb, who at times is a little too good to be true for a teenage boy.  There''s good times, like a kick-the-can game that brings the kids together having fun.  But mostly what the families battle with is jealousy and resentment of one another's accomplishments and living conditions.  There's clearly a "holier-than-thou" attitude that drives a wedge between all the families and that Gen's family in particular resents, having the least experience with frontier living.  A sociologist would be fascinated by the way modern societal niceties break down under primitive living conditions.

There's also a "Nellie Oleson" character, the daughter of the camp's owners, who is over-the-top mean to Gen because of her raging jealousy over Gen's normal life.  One can't help but read a warning into the dangers of parents isolating their children with their own warped ideas about what reality should be.

As a YA novel, I enjoyed this one much more than Going Vintage, a novel with a similar theme, mainly because the main character immerses herself so much more completely in the past.  Even though the story went on a bit too long at the end and Gen sometimes seemed too mature for her age, she was very likeable character and this was a pleasant, fun read.

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