Review: Upside Down in a Laura Ingalls Town by Leslie Tall Manning @LTManningWriter

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Release date: February 2, 2016

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction


It has been a long and difficult year for the Decker family, especially for sixteen-year-old Brooke. Her grades have plummeted. She deliberately breaks curfew. She makes out with boys she hardly knows. 

And now her father has totally lost it. When Tim Decker signs up his family of three to be contestants on a Hollywood reality show, Brooke’s life turns upside down. The place: The North Carolina backcountry. The year: 1861. 

Brooke is forced to trade in her Victoria’s Secret bra for a rib-cracking corset, her comfy jeans for an ugly farm dress, and her private bathroom for an outhouse. Television cameras will follow her every move as she lives the grueling life of a mid-nineteenth-century farm girl: milking a cow, churning butter, fetching water countless times a day, and riding in a horse-drawn wagon along a rutted road to spend pennies in town. 

This will be Brooke’s life for four awful months. Unless, of course, she breaks the rules and the producers kick her off the show…

Other families are scattered throughout Sweet Sugar Gap. The snotty Prudence Miller soon becomes Brooke’s rival. Wendell Murphy, who works at the local mercantile, is instantly smitten with Brooke—but also makes her suspicious. Does the only cute boy in town really like her, or is he merely showing off for the cameras?

Brooke Decker may just have to find a way to make it in the backcountry, leaving behind the modern frills she can’t live without. But can a young girl’s wishful heart surrender to a time and place she believes she can never call home? 


One of the first series that I fell in love with was The Little House on the Prarie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and I know I’m not alone there, she’s a legend. So when I read the blurb for this book I was super intrigued by the idea of a throwback to those books with a contemporary twist. On top of that, I’m a reality TV junkie so I couldn’t have been more invested even before I turned the first page. This book was everything I had hoped for and more, it had fantastic messages and themes for young adults, witty dialogue and it brought history to life in a totally captivating manner. 

Brooke is a fairly typical teenager acting out in a semi normal way. Her mother passed away one year earlier and she’s clearly struggling. Her dad is doing his best, but raising two young girls on his own is so challenging and on top of that he lost his wife. I was completely taken in by the Decker family and felt so much sympathy for them. Brooke was crying out for help in her own way, Tim was just trying to keep going, one day at a time and sweet Rebecca Lynn is only ten and totally broke my heart. When Tim signs them up for the reality show, Brooke isn’t exactly pleased as you can well imagine. 

This book was so historically accurate, it’s very apparent that the author spent a good chunk of time researching the 1860’s. Entering Sweet Sugar Gap was like entering a time warp and I was enchanted by the setting she created. History was never one of my favorite subjects as a kid, but reading about the era in such a creative and fun way was amazing! I learned so much about how life was for people back then and I can’t wait until my own kids are a little bit older to read this with them. I only say I’ll wait a few years because my oldest daughter is eight and there are a few references to drinking and drugs that are a tiny bit too mature for her now, but for the teenaged crowd this is ideal. 

The character development was outstanding here, especially in Brooke but every member of the Decker family grew so much over the course of the book. Living exactly as people did back in the 1860’s was not easy and stripping away the creature comforts they had become dependent upon caused them all to do some soul searching and find out what is truly important. This was one of those books that made me feel all the feelings, I laughed, cried, was mortified and scared, any emotion you can think of I probably experienced while reading this gem of a book. I highly recommend this to anyone, but especially to those with teenagers, I think it’s a story that can really resonate with them and teach some great lessons without them even realizing it. 

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the author for my review copy. 

15 thoughts on “Review: Upside Down in a Laura Ingalls Town by Leslie Tall Manning @LTManningWriter

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