My girls and I finished our latest nighttime read-aloud, Laddie: A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter, while on vacation last week. I picked it up in August on a whim because it was the Reading to Know Bookclub pick of the month, though I had no hope of actually finishing it that month. It’s long! (My copy is just at 400 pages!) It turns out that it took us about two months to read it, but read it all we did. I had a good bit of experience with Gene Stratton-Porter, having read and loved both A Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles in the past. I knew this would be a dense, time-consuming read, but the girls hung in there very well and followed the story better than I did. Of course, the story itself isn’t all that complicated: Little Sister narrates the story of her family, particularly the story of her older brother Laddie’s romance with their neighbor, Pamela Pryor, also known as The Princess. It’s as much the family’s story as it is Laddie’s and Little Sister’s, though, because in this huge, old-fashioned family, nothing is done without the involvement of the whole clan. The problem of the story is whether or not Laddie will win the heart of The Princess, mostly due to her rather difficult father and her own prejudices against a man who works the land. There are plenty of side stories, too, but all of them go back to the main complication. Rich in detail and description, this book requires way more attention than anything published in the last fifty years.
This story is old-fashioned in both its language and its message and theme. Because the story mostly involves the marriageability of Laddie (as well as a few of the other Stanton siblings), we get to see how this plays out in a big family where mother and father most decidedly hold the reins, all the while letting their young adult children make decisions on their own. I’ll admit that my girls and I didn’t quite understand or appreciate the obvious preference that Mother Stanton gives to Laddie, a paragon of virtue and good looks. Still, though, there’s much to be learned from a family like the Stantons. There’s also a good bit of humor in this story, despite its romanticized and idealized view of both life in general and family relations in particular. My girls and I laughed aloud numerous times throughout the story, mostly in the episodes that involved either the teacher who boarded with the Stantons or brother Leon, who is quite the rapscallion. Like Stratton-Porter’s other novels, Laddie ends with quite a bang: a huge mystery involving the Pryors is solved in a most improbable fashion. Given the story, though, I was not surprised, and I must say it was quite satisfying.
Reading this story aloud to my girls made me consider again the influence that books have on us in terms of the formation of our expectations about life, etc. While Laddie isn’t a Christian romance novel per se, there is a basic understanding about the Stantons and their faith, and the Pryors stand in stark opposition to that. Faith is definitely a part of the equation. I’ve read articles before (none which I can cite, unfortunately) to the effect that reading Christian romance novels and the like can set young people (women, in particular) up for disappointment about life in general and romance and marriage in particular. I’m not sure I buy that. I’ve expressed before how I want my children’s literary friends (the ones they meet in books) to help them becomes their best selves. In fact, while mulling over what I think about this whole issue, I realized that I had already explained it in my review of Freckles–how my own reading shaped my own thoughts about the type of man I would (and eventually did) marry. I think it’s something that worked in my favor.
My girls and I give Laddie–all 400 pages of it!–a Highly Recommended. In fact, I had to borrow our copy from Lulu, who decided to go back and re-read it, to write this review. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is. (1917)
- Available free for Kindle here–Laddie; a true blue story
- Gene Stratton-Porter historic site
- Reading to Know Bookclub wrap-up post with links to other reviews