Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1941)
I had forgotten how much I liked this book! So many things happened – Mary finally realized her dream of going away to college, the town expanded and everyone began having socials and literary nights and church, and Nellie Oleson is back and meaner than ever. The family also got a kitten, attended some fire and brimstone revival meetings that they didn't like but felt pressured to attend, and after lots of hard studying Laura finally got her teaching certificate and is offered a job in a nearby town. Now she will be able to help pay for Mary's seven years of college.
In this book Laura is truly becoming a young lady, concerning herself noticeably with dress and hairstyle. I vividly remembered the part where she cuts herself bangs, referred to by her parents as "lunatic fringe." There is still some kid in her though, as evidenced by her behavior in school. Her teacher is none other than Eliza Jane Wilder, who we met way back in Farmer Boy. Eliza is not a great teacher, coddling and cooing her students without any discipline whatsoever. When she finally decides to crack down on bad behavior, it is Laura and Carrie who she targets. (This is presumably because of her growing friendship with the girls' arch nemesis, Nellie.) The fact that Pa was on the school board only made things more difficult for Laura and poor frail Carrie, and one day when Laura sticks up for Carrie and goes a little overboard they are both expelled. Perhaps most importantly, it is during this time that Laura begins to be courted by Almanzo Wilder, though she doesn't recognize it yet, and is only confused by why this grown man keeps insisting on accompanying her home. Pa and Ma know what is going on though, and cautiously allow it.
I'm very much looking forward to the next book, in which Laura begins teaching and her romance with Almanzo blossoms.