In which the Ingalls family lives in a dugout, the girls attend school for the first time, meet Nellie Oleson (who dismisses them as “country girls”), grasshoppers destroy the family’s wheat crop, and Pa gets lost in a snowstorm and eats all the Christmas candy. The girls also attend their first party (at Nellie Oleson’s house, of course) and host one of their own, complete with pretty little sugar-sprinkled vanity cakes.
This is the book in which things start to change. Up until now, the Ingalls family has been mostly secluded and self-sufficient. But living close to town, everything is very civilized and store-bought. The handmade items the girls used to be so thankful for pale in comparison to what some of their friends at school have.
Life will never be the same again. If the last book was the start of big changes for the Ingalls family, this book was the beginning of their new life. Mary is now blind, they have a new little sister, Grace, and they partake in many new experiences that are a far cry from their previous, simple life like riding on a train and eating at a hotel. Also, their faithful dog Jack dies!
Much of the book is concerned with getting a claim on a homestead as the area is becoming populated at a rapid pace. A town is being built and Pa puts up a storefront and, finally, they also get their homestead. It’s an exciting time in the very early days of what will become the town of De Smet, South Dakota.
There’s a big gap between these two books. At the beginning of Silver Lake Grace is just suddenly there and Mary is already blind. There’s a brief explanation that the family was hit with scarlet fever and a bit of flashbacky-ness to the time during which she loses her vision, but not much. (Also since the last book, the family had a son who died as a baby, and they moved to Iowa and then back to Plum Creek. But none of that is touched upon in the books.) The rough times have been glossed over and we are forging onward. What could possibly come next? A very long hard winter, perhaps!