So I just finished A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron. And my head is full of WWII bombings, Jewish ghettos, and beautiful love stories. But I actually snuck The First Four Years in right before I started my new favorite WWII novel. So I thought I better write a review of it before I forget about it!
This is the last novel as part of the Little House Read Along 2016. So it also marks the last part that I have been rereading. Excited to read some new pieces in coming months!
- This book is short. Like 150 pages short. And it reads so fast. I finished the whole thing in one afternoon.
- And it’s also a bit depressing. I mean, the amount of hardships and trials that Laura and Almanzo go through in this book is incredible–bordering on unreal. I felt so bad for them as they battled so many hard times.
- I did not know the full history of this novel. Laura left it in manuscript form when she died. Her daughter, Rose, gave it to her lawyer and he had it published in that same form after Rose’s death. I wonder how Laura would have expanded it.
The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder follow the first years of marriage for Laura and Almanzo “Manly” Wilder. It is broken up into 4 sections, each detailing one year of their marriage. Before they are married, Laura tells Manly she doesn’t want to be a farmer’s wife because they will always be poor. Manly disagrees and asks for 3 years to show her that they can be successful as farmer. She agrees, and they are married. But things seem to progress from bad to worse over those years. They face mounting debts, ruined crops from wind and hail, and intense heartache in their small home. The one constant light in their lives is Rose, their darling daughter. But with life throwing so many difficulties their way, can Laura and Almanzo endure them all?
I really enjoyed getting a peek inside the early marriage of Laura and Almanzo. We really get to see them grow up over the course of the series. I knew they got married so it was excited to see that come to fruition. Their romance is so sweet and proper. It’s rare that we get the description of even a small peck on the cheek. But they show it in the way they work for and with each other. Manly builds them several houses by the end of the book and Laura helps him in his illness and around the farm. So much can be learned from their quiet, deep devotion for one another.
Surprisingly, I really loved getting more details about Rose and her beautiful childhood. Yes, they had financial problems. Yes, they had challenges. Yes,their house even burned down. But whenever Laura talks about Rose, she seems unaware and disconnected from those cares. Even when they lose their 3 week old son, it is Rose that Laura wants to see. She brings peace to their heartbroken world. Rose makes these first four years beautiful, happy, and full of discovery. In fact, Rose reminds me of my own daughter–full of energy and excitement for life. I think that makes any challenge or heartbreak more bearable.
It was easy for me to identify with Laura in this book because I am also a young mother. I would have loved hearing more details about her pregnancy and the different stages of Rose’s life. I love that Ma comes to help with delivery and after Rose is born. Reminded me of my mom doing that for me (and taking parts of the night shift too!). I’m at the beautiful stage of life where we are having children and raising them. Children in any form make life so much more worth while. I felt the same way Laura did upon entering my first home as the homemaker. I was excited to set up my home and put all my treasures (mostly books!) in their proper place. There’s something about having your own home that makes life beautiful, satisfying and more cheerful.
I really loved how content Laura was to stay home. Life just sees so simple back then! This quote sums her up well:
“Laura was never lonely…a visit to the horses and cows at the barn was, she thought, as good as visiting people any day.”
The First Four Years, page 44
Can we just talk for a moment about the million problems they have to overcome! And how outside of their control these issues are!? There’s loans and interest and more debts and the US government and hail storms and heat waves and severe illness and loosing a child and their house burning to the ground. It seems almost incredible that so many bad things would happen to the same family. I like to think that if she had revised this manuscript further, she would have added some more details about the happy times during these years. I hope they existed. She mentions briefly having her parents and sisters over for New Years Day but not any specifics. I kept wanting to hear about her family. Did Mary come to stay with them? Did her other sisters get married? I’ve come to love them as much as Laura and missed hearing more about their lives in this book.
At least we get a bit of Ma’s wisdom in this book:
“There is no great loss without some small gain.”
“A Rose in December was much rarer than a rose in June”
The First Four Years, pages 55 & 72
It seems like I have to include this quote because it sums up Almanzo’s personality so well. We could see this even when he was a young horse lover back in New York.
“Didn’t I tell you,” he said, “that everything evens up? The rich have their ice in the summer, but the poor get theirs in the winter.”
The First Four Years, page 49
I think this quote sums up the whole series quite well. It shows that the human spirit can always look forward with hopeful potential towards the future.
“The incurable optimism of the farmer who throws his seeds on the ground every spring, betting it and his time against the element, seemed inextricably to blend with the Creed of her pioneer forefathers that “it is better farther on”–only instead of father in in space, it was farther on in time, over the horizon of the years ahead instead of the far horizon of the West.”
The First Four Years, page 133
For me, this book had all the potential of being one of my favorites in the series. But I can understand why Laura didn’t publish it. It’s imbalanced towards their difficulties making it hard to get excited about reading, and it is just so short. I wanted more! Definitely worth reading though to finish the series.
What did you think of The First Four Years?
Which is your favorite Little House book?
This post is part of the Little House Read Along 2016 hosted by Bex @ An Armchair by the Sea and Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors. Each month, we read and review one of the Little House books. More info about the read along can be found through the links above. Check it out with the read along hashtag (#LittleHouseRAL) and join us anytime!