Littler Women: A Modern Retelling by Laura Schaefer

Information

Goodreads: Littler Women: A Modern Retelling
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Sept. 2017

Summary

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.

Review

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.

3 Stars

9 thoughts on “Littler Women: A Modern Retelling by Laura Schaefer

  1. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    Ah, my comment keeps deleting. I need to quit being lazy and switch to the chromebook. Very insightful review! Thank you for mentioning that the religious element was removed as this was such a huge part of their daily life from what I remember. I am a fan of Little Women, but not sure this would be for me.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I just don’t understand what the purpose of retelling the book so closely is. The author indicates that she hopes readers will go read the original, but I don’t think we needed a modern retelling to inspire people to read Alcott. She’s already pretty well read, as far as I can tell.

      I thought taking out the religion really wasn’t in the spirit of the original. I don’t understand why it was done, unless there was fear it would be controversial or something. But if you go read the original, you’re going to encounter religion in the end!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

        Yes.. it sounds counterproductive or should I say going against the point to follow the original too closely. It should feel familiar but not the same. And I really do have to agree with you on the religious aspect. I mean maybe if this one had truly branched out in some unique way, it could have worked? But it sounds like the mark was missed. But you do have me wanting to reread the original now 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Briana says:

    Honestly, this sounds completely boring. I don’t need a 1-to-1 rehash of the old book but just “modernized.” I wish this had been a more creative take on the story.

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    • Krysta says:

      I enjoyed it well enough just because I like Little Women. But then…I don’t really see the point of redoing it so closely, either. I could just read the original….

      Like

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