A charming, slow-paced novel of childhood; very mixed theology and a little language.
Little Sister is the youngest of the twelve Stanton children, growing up in idyllic pre-World War II Indiana. Much of the story is her first-person account of that childhood and its joys and sorrows, but it also follows the romance between her older brother Laddie and "The Princess," Pamela Pryor. The Pryors were driven from their home in England by some mysterious misfortune, and they refuse the help and sympathy of their new American neighbors. Can Laddie's persevering love, and Little Sister's help, break through the Pryors' defenses at last?
The children, especially Leon Stanton, are given to typical tricks and schemes - including snitching food, pulling pranks, and occasionally lying to their parents. In general, however, the morals are clear and above-board. The Stantons are a tightly knit and loyal family, putting great emphasis on hard work, honesty, and love for the land. The Pryors are almost the complete opposite; hardship, rather than bringing them together, has torn them apart. Their bitterness and back-biting is contrasted with the Stantons' love, but the Stantons also show compassion toward them.
The Stantons are portrayed as "God-fearing," but their theology is not very clear. Laddie mentions that his ideas about God are not entirely the same as his father's, but he does not specify what the differences are. He pursues a young woman from an unbelieving family, who makes no claims of being a believer herself. Mrs. Stanton opposes this at first, but eventually throws up her hands.
The Bible is read and quoted occasionally; Mrs. Stanton puts great emphasis on loving one's neighbor and doing good to all. Characters exclaim "Lord be praised" and "Hallelujah" at times. At one point the passage "God is love" is flipped to imply that "love is God."
Little Sister's notions are quite mixed up, especially as regards prayer. She develops a "powerful prayer" (involving facing the east, as the place where Jesus lived while on earth) and thinks about saving it for an important occasion. When her wishes are granted before she prays, she takes this as an indication that prayer is unnecessary; when her wishes are not granted after prayer, she takes it as further proof that prayer is unnecessary. She sets up a pulpit in the farmyard and mimics what she hears at church, not always respectfully.
At one point, when Leon is called upon to repeat in church the verses he memorized during the week, he deliberately chooses ones with some pointed meaning for church members. This seems to spark some rather odd sort of "revival."
Men go on a fox hunt, and the killing of one or two foxes is implied; characters hunt down snakes aggressively. One character has little control of his temper and threatens (and attempts) to kill a man. Townspeople serve a thief justice by chasing him down railroad tracks and firing at his heels. A character suffers a stroke. The Stantons discuss a newspaper article regarding a man who, when hanged, was not hanged long enough; the children subsequently attempt to reenact the scene, with near-disastrous results.
While not violent, there is a somewhat disturbing passage where Little Sister remembers watching a coffin being unburied; it is not related in a purposefully dark fashion and is more odd than anything else.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Little Sister mentions getting tipsy on too many apples.
Mr. and Mrs. Stanton discuss whether or not one of their daughters may have done something "to be ashamed of" while living in the city; Little Sister does not fully comprehend their meaning, and their fears prove unfounded. Little Sister mentions how her father kisses her mother's neck.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
Mr. Pryor swears; generally this is tacit, but once or twice "d*mn" or "devil" is written out. Leon takes God's name in vain a few times. "Land" and other such exclamations are used in place of "profane" language.
"Laddie" is a somewhat rambling tale, in keeping with its nature as a look at a girl's childhood from her own eyes; while Laddie's romance with the Princess is the story's backbone, many of the chapters are just vignettes of the Stanton's lives. When the few main plot threads are tied up at the end, it can come across as convenient and abrupt (though happy, as well).
However, these things do not remove all the charm of the book. It is an easy, slow-paced, beautifully written story about an idyllic life - Stratton-Porter's lifelong love for the land clearly shines through - and "plot" is not really its point. When read as the childlike tale of a family whose love for each other and for the land touches another family with love for neither, it is fresh and lovely.