The Jumping Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely can be read for free at A Celebration of Women Writers by clicking here.
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1930s Newbery Honor Book
Orphaned siblings Becky, Dick, Phil, and Joan have inherited a homestead in 1910 South Dakota. But to keep the land or sell it they must first live there for 14 months. Not sure if they can live in the remote prairie for that long they decide to try anyway. They deal with unexpected expenses, unpleasant neighbors, claim jumpers, bad weather, and other problems, but eventually triumph over them all and gain the respect and friendship of the nearby town's inhabitants and come to love their prairie home. A sweet story of a family adventure in a time with amazing opportunities.
The Jumping Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I've wavered over my star-rating for this 1930s Newbery Honor Book. I lean to three-stars for the modern writing style, which will appeal to today's children, especially if read following the vintage writing style of the Newbery predecessors. This book is easy to read and is oft compared to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. I do recommend reading this book following that series because this story attempts to fill in some of the gaps in Wilder's tales, helping to round out the hardships of frontier life. For example, Wilder frequently mentioned hunger and going without food in her stories; McNeely's Linville children rarely go hungry -and we see the work that goes into them having food - but the Linvilles are exposed to death, a concept that Wilder glossed over in her series.
But, this is a fantasy novel. This is one of those books promoting false notions about the history of our country, treating Manifest Destiny as a natural right and not a colonization attempt driven by religion. This leans me toward a one-star review and, when I average my opinions, I come up with a two-stars rating.
The negative portrayals of Native Americans and the casual way in which the author never refers to homesteading as theft of native lands bothers me. Anecdotes blur lines; we can't find viable solutions if we're trying to solve falsehoods. You don't get to the root of the problem that way; thus, any attempt at change is just an illusion that keeps feeding the beast of social injustice.
I first read this book as a child and this was an issue I had with the book back then and my response hasn't changed over the years. The problem with thinking about those larger issues outside of the book trivializes what actually happens inside the book. I stop caring about the story because it never actually addresses the issues that it makes me think about. This isn't the real prairie, this isn't real homesteading. It might as well be set on Mars - and that setting would help me stay inside the story instead of popping out into my own fantasy, wondering what it would've been like to come back 200-hundred years before Europe invaded North America and walk along the prairie, maybe meet a Hidatsa kid (when I was a kid) without having the burden of violence squatting on our shoulders. I keep wanting to read that story, which makes The Jumping Off Place pale in comparison.