Goodreads: Prairie Lotus
It’s the Dakota Territory in the 1880s and Hanna is looking forward to settling down in a new town. Her dream is to graduate high school and then open her own dress shop. But people east of California are unaccustomed to having a half-Chinese girl in her midst. Hanna will have to be strong if she wants to make friends and forge a new life.
Prairie Lotus is Linda Sue Park’s response to the popular Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which, though popular, has recently come under fire for depicting racist views towards Native Americans, especially through the character of Laura’s mother. Set in 1880 in the Dakota Territory, Prairie Lotus follows Hanna, a half-Chinese girl, as she attempts to build a life for herself in a new town, even though many of the residents do not welcome her. The book provides a valuable new perspective into a little-told part of history.
Prairie Lotus seeks, in a sense, to open up the historical record by pointing out that many Chinese immigrants were present in the United States in the 1880s. Though the book acknowledges many were present in California, and fewer made it far east, Park explains how she grew up reading Wilder’s books and imagining herself playing with Laura and having adventures on the prairie. The only problem was, Asian people were not likely to be welcomed, or treated fairly, in such a setting or such a time. So she wrote a book to explore one girl’s story on the prairie.
Prairie Lotus describes the prejudice a girl like Hanna would have faced in the late nineteenth century in the Dakota Territory. It also, however, seeks to correct Wilder’s books by depicting Native Americans in a more positive, and more culturally correct, light. Park’s Native Americans are women and children, with whom Hanna connects and whom she seeks to protect against the law. She feels strongly that their land has been stolen from them and that they are wronged, just like her (though she admits she herself is living on their stolen land). So she learns more about them. This is admittedly not a viewpoint many Western settlers were likely to have held, but modern readers would probably object to having a main character espouse views we today find repugnant. Park has other characters, such as Hanna’s father, espouse more disagreeable views, much like Laura’s mother held views Laura herself seemed to disagree with.
Park details some of her research about her Native American characters at the end of the book, explaining why she felt it was important to include their language as a counterpoint to depictions of Native Americans in which they speak only pidgin or broken English. She also notes she had readers correct her depictions prior to publication, explaining to her that her characters should point with their lips and not their fingers. Readers who were hoping for a more sensitive depiction of Native Americans will be heartened to know that Park tried to do the work to provide that.
The story itself will likely draw in readers who love Wilder’s books or books set during Western expansion. Hanna is a likable character easy to cheer on and there are plenty of interesting details about prairie life to satisfy those who, like Park, dream themselves into their own nineteenth century adventures. So, if you are looking for new historical fiction to delight and engage you, don’t hesitate to pick up Prairie Lotus.