The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton

By Jane Smiley. Published in 1998.

When my brother showed me an old review that described Jane Smiley’s 1998 novel as “Little House on the Prairie for grown-ups,” I had to read it. It was just a silly line, of course, but I adored Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books when I was little (I read my copies over and over until the spines broke), so even though I knew that phrase probably only referred broadly to subject matter, I headed to the library to check out The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton.

Frankly, the comparison is rather glib—the Ingalls family and the Newtons don’t share a motivation for moving West in nineteenth-century America, nor do they face the same hardships—but the books do have one key element in common: a compelling heroine with a strong, straightforward voice. Like Laura Ingalls, Lidie Newton is independent without being anachronistic, relatable and admirable to a modern audience while still convincingly inhabiting a long-past world. In Lidie, Smiley has created a memorable narrator: thoughtful, honest, and worth following through her many picaresque adventures.