By Jane Smiley. Published in 1998.
When my brother showed me an old Amazon.com 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.