This book in the series chronicles Laura’s coming-of-age. She leaves her family to teach in a nearby settlement town, a dismal place with three claim shanties and only five students. The central motif for this book is Almanzo Wilder’s courtship of Laura, which begins immediately. Her first week of teaching goes well, but squalid lodgings in an unhappy home depress her. Almanzo prevents a wretched weekend by coming for her with his team and cutter. Throughout the novel, Almanzo and Laura ride out together. Their courtship jaunts have ups and downs and some wild rides behind unbroken colts, but they culminate in an engagement.
Laura teaches to help her family financially and proudly adds her first two salaries to the family coffer. Her third salary she divides, using part of it for fabric to sew the bed linens and clothes she needs as a new bride; the other is her final contribution to Ma and Pa. Her earnings help pay Mary’s expenses at a college for the blind and buy an organ for Mary to play when she returns home.
This book completes several series themes. Frontier isolation is reduced. The growing town of De Smet seems full of strangers and population shifts. The Ingalls family remains rooted there; within a year the homestead claim will be theirs for good. Laura works outside her home to support the family. Most strikingly, she leaves her childhood home, beginning her own circle with Almanzo. The final volume mentions events from earlier times, incorporating the past, and continues Laura’s compelling descriptions of landscape and sky which help explain the endless seduction of western lands despite the fact that, “everything changes.”