The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly – Book Review

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly
Published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Lulu is the failure of the Atwood family, at least that’s how she feels. Her younger sister, Sophie, seems to actually be on the verge of a successful acting career, and their responsible elder sister Emma is getting married. Lulu is not in a relationship, and has no idea what she wants to do with her life, taking dead-end jobs that drive her parents mad. Somewhat depressed, Lulu is up in the attic on an errand when she discovers a trove of letters from her great-grandmother Jo March to Jo’s sister, Meg. Jo reminds Lulu so much of herself: unsure the path she wants to take in life, unwilling to enter into romantic entanglements with her neighbor. Both women are spunky, but somewhat lost. Watching Jo find herself in the series of letters, Lulu begins to feel better about her prospects, and finds herself too.

A fascinating idea to me, the concept of Little Women never having existed, because the Atwood sisters are continuing to live in the March sisters’ universe. Even so, just as millions of young girls have found strength in Jo March, her great-granddaughter is able to do the same. Donnelly had a bit of a tricky line to walk with The Little Women Letters. On one hand, she could have made them too much carbon copies of the March girls and their experiences, and made the whole book trite and derivative. On the other hand, she could have made them too very different from Jo and her sisters and the Little Women angle would have felt tacked on. Instead, Donnelly found a lovely balance. Leaving out Beth, she imbued the other three March girls into each of the girls in the Atwood family, while still leaving Emma, Lulu, and Sophie to be thoroughly modern English girls.

Perhaps the best part of The Little Women Letters were the titular letters which Lulu discovered in the attic. Donnelly caught Jo’s voice and style very well, creating letters that are not canonical to Little Women, but do mesh with the happenings in the book.

All in all The Little Women Letters is a hugely enjoyable novel for fans of Little Women. Recommended.

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Powells | Indiebound*

Source: publisher, for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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March by Geraldine Brooks – Book Review

March by Geraldine Brooks
Published by Penguin

When I reread Little Women this year, one thing that stood out to me more than anything else was just how completely absent Mr. March was from the story. I actually found him more present during the section when he is away at war, because his absence and more of an effect on the lives of his daughters than did his presence. Who is this man who meant so much to his daughters when he was gone, but seemed to mean so little when he came back? Even Sallie Moffat has better character development than Mr. March! Where Louisa May Alcott leaves a hole, however, Geraldine Brooks steps in to fill it. March details Mr. March’s sojourn to the South as a young man, and his return as a chaplain with the Union Army during the Civil War.

The Mr. March of Brooks’s imaginings is a deeply flawed man. He lusts after other women, even after marrying Marmee, and is about the least comforting and inspiring chaplain in the history of chaplains. He’s so bad, in fact, that he is basically fired from this job and shunted to a different army post where he won’t annoy an entire company of soldiers. But not only is Mr. March flawed, Marmee is flawed as well! She’s very conflicted about her husband gallivanting off to war, and puts on a brave face for her daughters.

I know that some readers are very bothered by these no longer idealized characters of Mr. March and Marmee, but as a parent – and a human being – I found them incredibly reassuring. Who can live up to the example of Marmee in Little Women, really? She is ever good, right-thinking and right-feeling. Someone who does not worry about material goods but is quite content to make do. Yet, as Geraldine Brooks writes her, Marmee is human. She can be furious with her husband, frustrated at their situation, but continue to put on a show for her daughters so that they do not feel the depths of their poverty, so they do not worry overmuch about their father. This, people, is parenting. How much more a realistic role model she is now to everyone who reads her story.

Mr. March is perhaps not actually made to be more sympathetic and realistic in March, but he does harken back to Louisa May Alcott’s ACTUAL crazypants father, Bronson Alcott far more than the canonical Mr. March does, which makes him very interesting at least, and a good stepping stone for curious readers to learn just what Louisa and her family lived with.

Although some parts of March were so Bronson that I didn’t feel they quite fit into Little Women, I still really enjoyed where Brooks took the story. Recommended.

I read this book for the episode of my What’s Old is New podcast about Little Women.

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Source: Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.