Although I had this book as a child, I did not read it. The title alone was enough to make me want to run screaming in the opposite direction. After all, I am from Indiana. Winters here are long and terrible and who wants to read about one that seemingly goes on forever? Not me, which explains why even as I picked this one up, I was dreading the tale told between the covers.
The Long Winter starts off well. We learn that the Ingalls family is saving money to send Mary to the blind college in Iowa and we see the return of the Reverand Alden as well as Mr. Edwards, but alas these two characters are not as recurring as they would be in the television series. Then Christmas is delayed by the first of numerous blizzards that hit DeSmet causing trains not to run, food supplies to run out and threaten the very lives of settlers in the area. the only people who seem to have wheat are the Wilder brothers, a pair of bachelors living in a small shanty who give up some of their stores to save the Ingalls’ from starvation. The Wilder boys make an appearance in the previous books, but they are more prominent characters in this title which offers a hint of what we know is going to happen in a few books down the line.
If you are reading through the Little House series then you really can’t skip this book, but I wish you could. At some point it is simply mind numbing to read about snowfall after snowfall, how there is no food and the family must take turns grinding wheat in a small coffee grinder, twist hay to keep the fire going and nearly freezes to death despite their best efforts. I can say that even though you know somehow the Ingalls family will pull through (if for no other reason than there are three more books) the narrative is gripping enough to make you wonder. Laura talks about being so cold and tired that I seriously considered that she was half way to the pearly gates at one point.
Unlike the TV show in which problems are solved in an hour (or two hour television movie event), The Long Winter proves that the Ingalls’ problems lasted a whole lot longer and that this was a family who had the wherewithal to come out of it when you know there were many other settlers who weren’t as lucky.