Goodreads: Littler Women: A Modern Retelling
Published: Sept. 2017
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March receive a modern makeover in this retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic. They attend school dances, go to sleepovers, and have jobs babysitting. As they grow up, they hope to make their father, on active duty overseas as part of the National Guard, proud upon his return.
When I read a retelling, I hope for something that strikes me as original, something that makes me see the work it is based on in a new light. Unfortunately, Laura Schaefer’s Littler Women, while a pleasant read, does not do anything new with the story. Rather, it follows Alcott’s work pretty faithfully, slightly reworking episodes and even paraphrasing parts. It also greatly shortens each episode, giving the characters little space to change. I wanted to love Littler Women, but it falls far too short from the original text to impress.
From the first page, it becomes apparent that this story has a largely one-to-one correspondence with Alcott’s work. The dialogue is moved around a little and modernized, but the girls express the same emotions and even do the same actions such as putting their mother’s shoes to the fire. The rest of the book follows suit. Their father is away, but as a member of the National Guard and not a chaplain. Their mother works for social services instead of volunteering for the Union Army. Meg is a babysitter instead of a governess. She and Jo attend a school dance instead of a dance at someone’s home. And so on. Jo’s poem in their homemade paper (now a “zine”) even appears in paraphrased form. The book follows Little Women so closely that it feels like you might as well read Little Women itself.
There are two major changes, but neither does much service to the story. The first is that episodes are greatly shortened. This makes the girls’ temptations seem less serious and their changes less evident. After all, is one instance of Jo containing her temper really evidence that she has had a character arc? The shortened episodes also mean readers have less time to get to know and love the characters. Beth falls ill (with the flu instead of scarlet fever) and I did not even care because I barely felt like I knew her, much less realized how sweet and caring she is. I really have no emotional attachment to any of the characters and so never felt invested in their stories.
The second major change is the excision of religion from the story. The girls’ faith is integral to their lives in the original book, inspiring them to do better. In Alcott’s story, they play Pilgrim’s Progress and even receive copies of the book at Christmas. However, it appears that religion is not modern enough to appear in a “modern retelling.” Or perhaps having characters live out their faith was seen as embarrassing or alienating. So Pilgrim’s Progress is, as is any indication that their father is a chaplain or their family religious at all (aside from a vague reference to “church” at Christmas). Yet, with it gone, much of the heart has left the story. It is also unclear what motivates the characters or why they want to do better.
Little Women was my favorite book while I was growing up, so I was looking forward to this retelling. However, though I enjoyed passing a few hours with it, I find that the story lacks depth and the characters do not possess enough character to convince me to care about them. I wish I could say that I loved this book, but I am mostly disappointed.