I’m not going to gush over this book. Practically every review I’ve seen about this title just raves about it. It even received FIVE starred professional reviews. I won’t be surprised to see it as a Newbery contender.
Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy this “Little House alternative” by middle grade fiction legend Linda Sue Park. My review may sound negative, but I really did enjoy the book. But someone needs to keep some perspective about it. It’s a good book, yes, but I think the hype is just a tad overblown.
Fourteen-year old Hanna is half-Chinese and half-white. After her mother’s death, Hanna and her father move from California to the Dakota Territory. Starting life over on the prairie, Hanna’s father hopes to start a dress goods store, and Hanna hopes to design dresses. But she must first overcome the same prejudice and racist attitudes that killed her mother.
THE SHORT VERSION
Nearly every review I read of this book is a 5-star gush-fest over it. I liked it, but I’m not fangirling over it.
WHAT I LIKED
This book is hailed as an alternative to the Little House books, and I totally agree with that assessment. There are many laws restricting the movements of Native Americans, and the townspeople clearly fear the local natives. Hanna, however, treats her Indigenous neighbors respectfully. She understands the injustice of forcing them to stay on the reservation, like prisoners. Hanna knows exactly what it’s like to be hated and feared simply for her heritage.
Don’t miss the Author’s Note at the end! She talks about why she wrote this book and how she drew inspiration from her childhood love for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.
Despite the narrow minds of the townspeople, I love the setting and want to live on the prairie, too! I love the simplicity of the one-room school house and no cars honking horns everywhere. I would definitely miss my electricity and indoor plumbing though!
This would make a great read-aloud for middle graders. There is an assault later in the story, which makes it more appropriate for at least Grade 5, I would say.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Hanna is a Mary Sue. It works for her character, I guess, but did she do one thing in the book that was not perfect? She’s an absolute saint who is more than a century ahead of her time. She’s kind, observant, intelligent, resilient, respectful, dutiful, shows incredible restraint in the face of horrible racist statements and behaviors…sorry, but I just don’t find that realistic or interesting. I would have loved to see her get into a fight at school or at least put a frog in the backpack of one of those mean kids after they soiled her lunch.
The action is pretty quiet. Not much happens until closer to the end. Hanna experiences maltreatment, but you never really fear for her until this one scene late in the story. Again, if she had fought back more, there could have been some tension in the plot. She would have gotten in trouble, caught the ire of the town. It’s more a “slice of life” than a story with much action.
Why did Hanna’s dad take her away from Chinatown again? I did not get that at all. Sure, her mom was injured badly in race riots. But couldn’t race riots happen anywhere they went? Clearly, Hanna’s not that safe in DeSmet, either. Is it really a good idea to take Hanna away from her home and her Chinese heritage and culture?
Hanna and her mother are biracial (Chinese and White). Hanna befriends an Indigenous woman and her family on the prairie.
LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW
Themes: westward expansion, life on the frontier, grief, death of a parent (mother), maltreatment of Indigenous peoples, prejudice, racism, sewing, fashion design, Asian Americans, female education, bullying
Would adults like this book? yes
Would I buy this for my high school library? no–it’s too young
Would I buy this for my middle school library? YES! It’s perfect for middle school.
Would I buy this for my elementary library? I personally would. You might want to read the assault scene though first. I think it’s fine for 5th grade and mature 4th graders. The assault scene is in Chapter 23.
Sexuality: none; Hanna has a slight crush on a boy in her class, but it is a very minor part of the story.
Violence: medium; spoilers here–highlight to see–> Hanna’s mother was injured badly by a fire in the California Race Riots. Her injuries ultimately killed her, which makes it a murder. Additionally, Hanna is assaulted by the town drunk, threatened with rape, then blamed for the encounter.
Drugs/Alcohol: There is a town drunk.
Thoughts on Prairie Lotus? What did you think of it?