If your fifteen-year-old daughter were running wild, what steps would you take to control her? Suppose her other parent, your spouse, was gone. Would that change your strategy? Now, suppose you are that fifteen-year-old girl. What would it take to rein you in and get you back in control?
These are the issues that Leslie Tall Manning raises in her creative and well-researched novel, Upside Down in a Laura Ingalls Town. When Brooke Decker's grade plummets and she deliberately breaks curfew in the months after her mother dies, her father signs his family up to be contestants on a Hollywood reality show depicting pioneer life in 1861.
Although her father and younger sister are excited by the project, Brooke does NOT want to wear the ugly, thick clothes; milk a cow; fetch water; use an outhouse; and cook for her family, the farmhands and even the film crew. She hates being filmed. Her best strategy for getting out of this whole mess is to break the show's rules so her family will get kicked out of the town. She tries wearing makeup and an eyebrow ring. She whispers inappropriate statements that have no place in Sweet Sugar Gap in 1861. She doesn't notice that her strategy is not working, or maybe she's simply too tired from all the hard work to notice.
The author has done extensive research into the life of people in 1861. She's researched everything from old recipes and the country music of the period to cooking in a Dutch oven and the history female sanitary practices in that time. She says, "I interviewed a tonsorial owner who still shaves his clients with a straight razor (he practiced on my husband's face); I drove to different working farms to see how the homesteads were laid out; I watched countless videos on milking cows and churning butter; and, of course, I had to make sure my Civil War facts were straight so my historically smart readers won't freak out and call me a ninny." With detailed descriptions she helps readers appreciate the work that went into surviving on a farm in that time.
What holds us, though, is the way Brooke matures as she copes with the crises, the quiet, the chores, and the townspeople. There are some surprises towards the end, and a few questions that may linger even after you've finished reading, but this is an eye-opening story for people who think their life is tough and for people who need to appreciate what is right in their lives.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Leslie Tall Manning is a seasoned writer of both Young Adult and Adult novels. Nearly 15 years ago, she left Southern California for the Real South on a whim, and a decade later calls North Carolina her home. As a private English tutor and writing specialist, she spends her evenings working with students of all ages, and her days working on her own writing projects. Visit her website.
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