Book Review: Back to the Prairie by Melissa Gilbert

August 10, 2022

Sometimes you have a particular connection to a celebrity because of their TV series, meeting them in person, or having the same hometown. I have always liked Melissa Gilbert since we “grew up together” because of her long-running TV series Little House on the Prairie.

I learned about her new release, “Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade, A Life Rediscovered” by happenstance while browsing on Libby (the library app). In Melissa’s previous memoir, simply titled “Prairie Tale, “she shares about her “complicated journey from buck-toothed Laura’ Halfpint’ Ingalls to Hollywood starlet, wife, and mother.” (Amazon description). However, in this book, she tells a new story: life with her new husband, Timothy Busfield, the cross-country move from Hollywood to Michigan and then to a ramshackle house in the Catskills, and finally, the discovery of a simpler, satisfying life.

I borrowed the audio version, read by Melissa. Through her narration, the book felt like a personal conversation. She seemed more approachable, even when I disagreed with her. (More on that in a minute.) 

The beginning of the book is the sweet love story of how she met Timothy Busfield (who played Elliot in the hit TV show
Thirty Something) and married in 2013. In my opinion, the Foreword (written and read by Tim) is the best part of the book. How he speaks about Melissa is so tender and affectionate, it is obvious they have become a good match.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the couple’s adventure of finding a dilapidated cottage in the beautiful Catskills of New York: renovation on a budget, Melissa’s self-taught power tool skills, trial and error in creating a vegetable garden, and communing with nature and its local inhabitants.

Being the same age as Melissa, I could relate to her laments about aging. It seems that Melissa has embraced her age and seems glad to be finally free of the artificialness of Hollywood. Gone are the regular Botox injections and red hair: now, she enjoys her natural hair color and wearing overalls to pick veggies from her garden.


From many of the book reviews I read, Melissa’s politics was the sticking point for most readers. That may depend on the side of the aisle you prefer.

After Melissa weds Tim, she moves to Michigan, where he is originally from and where he has returned to set up residence. She comes to love her new community and decides to run for U.S. Congress for Michigan’s 8th congressional district as a Democrat. I’m not sure that being the former Screen Actors Guild president was experience for Congress, but surely her name didn’t hurt.

Her platform was how she would work for families, and she points out how she connected with the voters more than her competition. Yet during the campaign, Melissa’s back pain becomes so severe that she must drop from the race and concentrate on getting surgery.

It was certainly apparent that she did not like President Trump (she called him the “orange turd”), but even in disagreement, using language as she did was low-class, combative, and unnecessary. This is a surefire way to dismiss half of your fan support.

However you feel about her progressive politics, it is HER journey, and this foray into politics was part of it.

Other political mentions include her son Michael participating in the  George Floyd protests in NYC. And because she is vehemently against guns, Tim buys her a crossbow that she learns to shoot for safety. (While the crossbow could be safety against the bears that inhabit the Catskills, I’m not sure it isn’t altogether different for home safety as a gun would be. You still have to shoot to kill. But that’s my opinion.)  


When writing about any experiences in the past two years, COVID is always present. As Melissa shares her experiences, she does sometimes come across as a little paranoid, even above the masks and handwashing. One time when they went out to eat at a restaurant after several weeks at home, they chose a restaurant only after there were the correct COVID procedures and a HEPA filter. (She still nearly freaked out when someone near her sneezed, and there was great debate on whether she and Tim needed to leave the restaurant). After her son participated in the protests, Melissa and Tim purchased an RV as a place for Michael to quarantine in case he was exposed to COVID. (Yet, when Tim was later exposed, he still stayed in the house with Melissa.)

There were relatable experiences: breaking a tooth and having to wait until the dentist reopened, missing her mom, hugging her grandchildren, cooking, and reviving family activities like board games. Growing a new home life in the Catskills was adventurous, gratifying, and enjoyable, even in a pandemic.


Even in the “huh?” parts of the book, I don’t doubt the author’s sincerity about wanting and needing to live more simply, financially and otherwise. Melissa and Timothy are older stars who have to hustle to pay their bills because they don’t have the paychecks they used to have in Hollywood. So why not write a book during the pandemic?

While reading a celebrity memoir, you wonder if stars can actually relate to people such as us. There is a pattern of celebrities who love to talk about living a “simpler” life, yet their lifestyle is still in the 1%. In this book, Melissa doesn't alienate the reader. 

It is a good read overall, and one that can be finished in a weekend. I gave it three stars on Goodreads. But the biggest disappointment in the book? Learning that there were plans toward a reboot of Thirty Something, caboshed because of the pandemic. Sigh. 

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