Sixteen, on the other hand, is apparently just fine. (#spoilers.)
Laura hears the sobering tale of a girl who does get married at thirteen while out getting laundry with her “wild cousin” Lena, Aunt Docia’s daughter. Neither are thrilled. Laura soberly notes that “she can’t play any more,” while Lena is more direct: “She’s a silly! Now she can’t have any more good times,” and WORD.
Lena is awesome. Lena rides horses bareback and drives her own buggy and “wasn’t brought up in the woods to be scared by an owl” and I would read the hell out of a series about her. Especially because Ma Does Not Approve of Lena.
I don’t know what it is about Silver Lake, but it keeps introducing side characters who clearly have a lot going on, and are frankly more interesting than the Ingalls family. I don’t dislike the Ingallses, except for the racism, but Hotel Girl On Her Own and Bad Girl Lena are a lot more exciting than Grace being spoiled but pretty and Carrie being sickly and Mary being…
Here’s the thing. I’m (currently, time and chance being what they are) not disabled, so I don’t know if the “Mary has to have everything nice and never bear any hardship Because She’s Blind” deal is actually ableism (I know that Mary’s transformation–or sort-of-transformation–into Saintly Blind Girl is) or what, but it is annoying. Like, Laura and Carrie want to walk for a bit but then MAAAAARY would have to BE IN THE WAGON ALOOOOOONE OH NO.
I mean, the girl is blind, not made of cellulose. I’m pretty sure she can handle an hour on her own–take a nap or something, it’s not like Laura and Carrie are going to be sterling conversationalists for a twelve-hour prairie journey. Or Ma and Grace could sit inside, Ma being so keen on Christian selflessness.
Similarly, in a scene I forgot to mention last time, there’s a bit where Mary is being a giant scoldy priss about Carrie “fidgeting” and “mussing her dress” (good Lord the kid is like ten, lay the fuck off) and Laura gets cranky about it and then feels bad about being cranky because You Must Never Think Bad Things About Saint Mary The Blind.
Which is one of those moments in the books where I wonder whether Adult Laura is presenting the situation totally straight and legit thinks Young Laura was wrong for thinking such things, or knowingly portraying the situation as kind of tiresome and not entirely right, or what. Because: UGH NO. You can TOTALLY think bad things about Mary, because Mary is being an officious little asshole to her sister who ALSO HAD SCARLET FEVER and isn’t in great shape either and Mary is like fifteen so she can calm the entire hell down with this Junior Mom act, and SHUT UP MARY.
Also, if your sister’s describing everything for you, maybe learn to cope with a damn metaphor or two? The whole “you must always describe everything as it is or you are Sinning” deal is…can we just go hang out with Lena the Bad Girl?
Human conflict in general, and more serious conflict than dealing with Tiresome Mary, is much more of a factor in this book. Aunt Docia’s husband has been dicked over by the railroad company–which, it’d be nice if Adult Laura could remember that corporations are kind of awful, and in the Alternate Universe Where None of This is Actual Life she does, so there–and the family gets followed by a menacing guy while they’re on their way to their final destination.
If Plum Creek was Nature Can and Will Proactively Fuck You Up, Silver Lake is And Your Fellow Humans Also Are Fucking Awful.
Not all of them–there’s Big Jerry, the local Friendly Rogue, who rescues the Ingalls. For some reason, it’s very important to the narrative that we know that he’s “French and Indian,” which is theoretically probably an attempt to be enlightened in a “see they’re not all bad” way, but UGH.
See also Pa and Laura’s conversation about how empty the prairie is now that the white man killed all the buffalo–the Eldritch Wilderness thing makes another appearance here, in the form of silence and emptiness–followed by Pa singing cheerfully about how “Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm,” like PLEASE MAKE EVEN ONE CONNECTION CHARLES.
Spoiler: He does not.