So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow

So Many Beginnings

Information

Goodreads: So Many Beginnings
Series: None (but part of the Remixed Classics line)
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

It’s 1863 and the American Civil War is at its midpoint as four sisters and their mother work to make a life for themselves in the Freedmen’s Colony at Roanoke Island. There’s Meg, a teacher who longs to be a mother. Jo, a young woman with a way with words. Beth, a talented seamstress. And Amy, an aspiring dancer. Life is not easy, but the girls support each other through it all.

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Review

So Many Beginnings is a fascinating retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in that it takes inspiration from Alcott’s work, but chooses to tell a story all its own. While the basic idea is the same–four sisters are coming of age during the Civil War–almost everything else has changed. Readers cannot expect to see similar incidents in the book, even of something as vague as a failed picnic or a party gone awry, nor can they expect the romances to follow the same patterns. This is a wholly new tale with wholly new characters. It is one, however, that seems almost more concerned with getting history right than it seems concerned with telling a story.

Like many works of historical fiction published today, So Many Beginnings is eager to teach its readers about the proper way to view the past. In so doing, it sometimes feels anachronistic. The characters cannot be presented as actual people from the 1860s because readers might mistakenly think that their views, which are now considered outdated or even offensive, are something they should agree with. So the book is full of characters musing about how to interpret certain moments in history or even brief mentions of things like “therapy” for soldiers–even though PTSD was not recognized or treated in quite the same way as it is now–because educating impressionable readers is the focus of the book.

Many readers will likely enjoy the informative aspects of the book. The Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island is not necessarily a part of history taught in schools, so Morrow takes care to bring it to the forefront. The characters have many conversations about what is happening, how they see the Union as failing them, and how they wish well-meaning white folks would actually listen to them–the people living there–and give them agency. Jo also begins a newsletter about the colony, with excerpts periodically provided in the book. Readers may just be inspired by all the information to keep on researching this overlooked part of history.

The characters, however, seem to fall a bit by the wayside during the story. And, in a seeming effort to make the book happier, Morrow removes much of the conflict that makes the original characters come alive. Here, Jo does not feel sorrow at potentially losing Meg to a suitor, but whole-heartedly supports her in getting married. Jo does not even feel much annoyance at Amy (Amethyst), who is made more winning and less insufferable. Beth (Bethlehem), as in apparently every retelling of Little Women, does not die and actually has more confidence and vision for a future life than any of the other characters. The picture is of a loving, supportive family who almost never disagree or have any problems. Any slight disturbances they feel are quickly forgiven and forgotten. It makes the family seem ideal, yes, but what is Jo without a temper and without the fear of losing her sisters? What is Amy without her pride and desire for wealth? Conflict and flaws are what makes a story interesting.

Even the writing style proves a bit disappointing. The sentences often seem stilted. Unusual word orders occur frequenly, making it necessary to reread parts to gain understanding. And Jo, who is supposed to be a magician with words, talks in an overly elaborate and formal way that seems more awkward than anything else.

I had been looking forward to this retelling for months, but I have to admit that I found the reading experience a bit lackluster. I enjoyed learning more about history, but did not find the story itself engaging, and had trouble deciphering some of the prose. It is worth checking out for readers who enjoy historical fiction and who want to learn more about the Freedmen’s Colony at Roanoke Island. But a nonfiction book would likely work just as well, with the benefit that readers will not be expecting more than a factual account.

3 Stars

Little Women: The First Classic I Remember Loving

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

What is the first classic you remember loving?

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Little Women First Classic I Remember Loving

I first read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women when I was around eight or nine, and my love for the story has never waned. Though first published in 1868, the story, centered around the coming-of-age of four sisters, has a timeless quality. Their struggles may be different in nature–feeling out of place at a ball, worrying that they do not have enough money to treat friends to pickled limes–but the scenarios are relatable nonetheless. Who has not worried about fitting in at one point or another? Who has not hoped to impress friends, to find a place where they belong? Little Women takes the everyday moments of a life and imparts to them all the seriousness and the importance they deserve. And reading it, one cannot but help that the story is taking them seriously, too.

Part of what I love so much about Little Women is that it seems very much like the type of book that might not be published today. It has no clear plot, no unusual premise, no quirky adventures. It is, quite simply, the story of a few girls’ lives. They begin as teens and girls, and they end as women. Along they way, they experience the ups and downs of life: schoolgirl crushes, new and lost friendships, family tragedy, the first taste of independence as they strike out on their own. But Alcott makes each of these moments supremely interesting because she is able to enter in to what it means to be a girl, and a girl turning into a woman. Small things that seem unimportant to the old and disillusioned can be immensely important to the young. Alcott remembers those feelings, and she lets readers experience them again, too.

I also love that Alcott presents readers with four distinct personalities in her protagonists, and she shows that each is valued. There is no one right way to be a woman. There is Meg, who at first dreams of becoming of becoming an actress, but finds happiness in marriage and motherhood. Fierce Jo, who longs to become a famous author, to discard traditional gender roles, and to support her family. Gentle Beth, whose kindness makes everyone’s lives a little happier. And vain and ambitious Amy, who must at last recognize that she has no artistic genius, but who finds personal fulfillment nonetheless. Each follows a different path–some entering a profession, some choosing the domestic life, some finding wealth, and some content with poverty. But all are presented as worthy of love and support. The women in this book never compete with one another, never put each other down, never suggest that they all have to be the same way in order to be strong. It is a stunning acceptance of womanhood that many a contemporary novel has failed to achieve.

So why do I keep returning again and again to Little Women, the book that first enchanted me when I was a girl? At first, I simply loved the story and the characters, perhaps without really knowing why. As the years pass, however, I always find something new in Little Women–a nuance in a character I had overlooked, a significance in a passage that needed more life experience for me to see it. The book is one that grows and changes with me. But, even so, it also provides important constants: four girls who are valued for their individuality, and the events of their lives that are taken very seriously, “ordinary” as they are. Little Women still moves me because life itself is moving. And Louisa May Alcott has captured four lives perfectly, with all their heartaches and joys.

What is the first classic you remember loving?

5 Retellings of Little Women

Retellings of Little Women

Little Witches: Magic in Concord by Leigh Dragoon

In this historical fantasy, the March sisters are growing up in Civil War Concord–but they are also witches. Then Mr. Laurence and his grandson more in next door, and they just happen to be witch finders! A graphic novel retelling aimed at middle grade readers.

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Jo: A Graphic Novel by Kathleen Gros

In this contemporary retelling, Jo is a thirteen-year-old who anonymously runs a blog about her family and starts to discover more about herself as she develops feelings for the girl editor of her school newspaper, Freddie Baer.

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More to the Story by Hena Khan

More to the Story

Few retellings have come close to capturing the spirit of the Little Women like Hena Khan’s More to the Story. While it can be tempting to try to deliver the exact same plot line as Alcott, just updated with modern references, Khan goes beyond this to create an original work that is clearly inspired by Little Women, but does not try to be Little Women. And that is its magic. More to the Story emphasizes family relationships, friendship, and self-discovery to create a work that pays homage to Alcott with its depiction of modern girlhood, while still delivering its own compelling narrative.

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Littler Women: A Modern Retelling by Laura Schaefer

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.

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Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is a Little Women updated for a modern audience.  This means not only setting the story in modern-day New York City and featuring the Marches as a blended family, but also espousing contemporary values.  Where Louisa May Alcott’s original novel may be said to have promoted virtues such as humility, hard work, and cheerfulness, Rey Terciero’s re-imagining promotes values of inclusion, diversity, and feminism.  In many ways, this feels like the Little Women many readers have wanted all along. A graphic novel.

More to the Story by Hena Khan

More to the Story

Information

Goodreads: More to the Story
Series: None
Source: Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Published: 2019

Summary

Jameela Mirza is excited to be chosen as feature editor of her school newspaper, but the editor-in-chief keeps rejecting her ideas. She’ll never be able to make her award-winning journalist grandfather proud if she is not allowed to write the hard-hitting stories she wants! Then one of her sisters becomes ill, and Jameela’s world changes overnight. She wants to a good journalist, a good friend, and a good sister–but she might be juggling too much.

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Review

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is one of my favorite books and I have read a fair number of contemporary retellings. However, few have come close to capturing the spirit of the original like Hena Khan’s More to the Story. While it can be tempting to try to deliver the exact same plot line as Alcott, just updated with modern references, Khan goes beyond this to create an original work that is clearly inspired by Little Women, but does not try to be Little Women. And that is its magic. More to the Story emphasizes family relationships, friendship, and self-discovery to create a work that pays homage to Alcott with its depiction of modern girlhood, while still delivering its own compelling narrative.

More to the Story focuses primarily on Jameela, a middle school student who dreams of becoming a famous journalist, just like her grandfather. However, while she longs to write hard-hitting stories for her school paper, the editor-in-chief keeps rejecting her ideas in favor of personal interest stories. Just like Jo March, Jameela has to figure out how to identify her own flaws and control her temper, if she is going to pursue her dreams. This self-realization flows naturally from the story, giving readers a well-rounded protagonist with a satisfying character arc.

Also naturally embedded in the story is a heartwarming emphasis on family and friendship. Jameela’s three sisters are all rather different, but the family accepts and supports each one. There is never any question that they would do anything else. And this love extends outward, embracing Jameela’s extended family, and her friends. There is a real sense of coziness and belonging to More to the Story, which becomes increasingly important as Jameela realizes one of her sisters is very ill, and will need all the support the community can give. The book does not shy away from difficult subjects, but it is ultimately uplifting–something I think many readers would appreciate just now.

More to the Story will delight fans of Alcott looking for a modern take on Little Women that captures its charm. However, the book is also an engaging story in its own right, one that will appeal to readers who love books focused on the bonds between sisters and the desire find one’s voice and use it for good.

5 stars

The Little Women Cookbook: Tempting Recipes from the March Sisters and Their Friends and Family by Wini Moranville

Information

Goodreads: The Little Women Cookbook
Series: None
Source: Download from Edelweiss
Published: October 2019

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Review

I am a huge fan of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, so when I saw there was a cookbook for the book, I had to try it out. Recipe books based around other books can be hit-or-miss. Oftentimes, it feels like the creators wanted to cash in on a popular title more than they really wanted to pay homage to it or even offer some actually tasty meals. The Little Women Cookbook, however, surpassed my expectations. Wini Moranville clearly appreciates Alcott’s work and attempts to offer a cookbook that acknowledges Alcott’s beloved book while also providing recipes for authentic period dishes–thankfully updated for the modern cook.

Moranville largely bases her recipes around actual meals and food mentioned in Little Women. Entries typically have a quote from the book, reminding readers of passages such as Jo’s famous ruined dinners and Amy’s failed picnic. Readers then have the opportunity to cook something similar to what the Marches and their friends would have enjoyed. Other times, Moranville will offer a recipe that was actually found in the “receipt” book Meg consulted, or a recipe that would have been common at the time. The result is that readers will feel confident that they are really experiencing something akin to what diners in the 1860s would have. (Updates such as allowing for the use of a temperature-controlled oven or gelatin in lieu of calves’ feet allow readers to modernize the experience a bit.)

Fascinating historical facts and explanations intersperse the book, making it an interesting read for fans of Little Women, even if an individual does not feel like making any of the recipes. For example, Moranville illuminates readers as to the nature of the “messes” Meg cooked for Beth; discusses how the Marches, though poor, managed to afford lobster; and finally explains what a blacmange is. Other historical notes explain why Louisa May Alcott’s work was filled with apples, or talk about how her father was what we would now call a vegan. Moranville ends up answering questions about Little Women and its author that readers may not have even known to ask.

I also appreciated that Moranville provides several full menu suggestions for readers who want to do something like create their own picnic–just like the Marches and Laurie. Sometimes new recipes can be confusing. What are you supposed to pair them with? Are they supposed to constitute a full meal or are you supposed to add side dishes? Moranville takes the guesswork out, and, really, I wish more cookbooks would do the same.

To give a full review of The Little Women Cookbook, I decided to try out some of the recipes myself. At times, I did feel a little bit like Jo, somehow running into absurd dilemmas while cooking, but, ultimately found the recipes relatively easy to follow and ultimately delicious. I chose to cook: apple orchard chicken, Jo’s lettuce salad, and black raspberry jelly cake with lemon cream.

The apple orchard chicken was pretty easy to make. You simply cook your chicken on the stove top, then prepare a sauce made of apple juice, chicken broth, and cream to pour on top. The only problem I had was that the liquid is supposed to reduce on the stove top before you add the cream to complete the sauce. I kept it boiling, but for some reason, it didn’t want to reduce. My chicken was ready, however, and I was hungry so I gave up and ate a soupy sauce. I would make this recipe again, but I will have to boil the sauce a lot longer than I had anticipated. I recommend cooking the sauce while you cook the chicken, to account for this added time, even though the book says to make the chicken first and then to wrap it in foil while you make the sauce.

For Jo’s lettuce salad, I prepared a Dijon mustard and egg yolk-based dressing that Moranville assures readers “was among the most common ways to dress salad a the time.” You are supposed to pair it with an “assertively flavored green” like arugula, since the salad does not call for anything other than the dressing and greens. The only arugula I could find, however, seemed pricey for the amount, so I just used iceberg lettuce and dressed up my salad with tomatoes, green olives, and banana peppers–I figured that would make the salad taste assertive enough. I did really enjoy the dressing, however, which basically tastes like really tangy Dijon. I acknowledge, however, that the dressing may be acquired taste, since my test subject went to look for a different dressing. Fortunately, the book recommends that you make the dressing separately rather than tossing it in with the leaves, since it is so heavy. This makes it easy for your guests to taste the dressing before committing to dumping it all over their greens.

For dessert, I chose to make the hot milk sponge cake, which you can then transform into the black raspberry jelly cake with lemon cream. The store only had grape jelly and strawberry, however, so I turned it into a strawberry jelly cake with lemon cream. Moranville instructs cooks to make the hot milk sponge cake, let it cool, then cut it in half. You are then supposed to spread the jam in the middle, put the top make on, and put the lemon-flavored whipped cream on top. I found these instructions a little strange since the cake recipe only makes one round 8-inch pan’s worth of cake, which is rather thin to cut in half. Gamely, however, I tried. And failed. I ended up spreading the jam on top of the cake and then spreading the whipped topping over it. It really didn’t matter; it still tasted delicious and was probably the best part of the meal. I also forgot to add the sugar to the lemon cream topping, but, since it was spread on top of jam, that also did not matter. (Though it did make me feel rather like Jo trying to cook!) In future, I will double the hot milk sponge cake recipe and make two cake pans’ worth if I want to create a layer cake.

Altogether, The Little Women Cookbook is a pretty useful cookbook. The recipes are things you might actually want to make and they typically do not require odd ingredients. For my meal, the main things I had to buy that I don’t usually stock were things like heavy whipping cream*, lemons, jam, and apple cider vinegar. If the book were ever updated, I do think it would be helpful for Moranville to include advice such as how to store certain recipes–what type of container, cold or room temperature, how many days, etc. Possibly most cooks will not need this information, but I find it reassuring to be told my storage choices are correct, and I think new cooks in particular might benefit from this information. Altogether, however, I can say that The Little Women Cookbook was a delightful read as well as a culinary success.

*Part of me regrets not also buying an electric mixer since it took me at least 15 minutes to whip the cream by hand, but I like to think this added to the authentic March family experience.

4 stars

A Classic I Loved as a Child–and Still Love Now (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

What Is Classic Remarks?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

How Can I Participate?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

This Week’s Prompt:

What classic did you love when you were younger—and you still love now?

I first discovered Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women around the fourth grade. Entering Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy’s world was a delightful adventure. They always had so much fun together, whether they were putting on a play, writing a newspaper, or going on a picnic. The sisters were all very different from each other, it is true, but that was part of the book’s secret. No matter whether you identified with Meg’s desire to belong, Beth’s shyness, Amy’s dreams, or Jo’s ambition, you could find someone who seemed to share your hidden hopes and fears. They could be a role model, a mirror, or a friend. What mattered was that they were there.

Little Women has never aged for me. I never reread it and find that I have outgrown its characters, its story, or even its prose. I never even find it to be the dreaded “preachy” and “moralistic” horror that others seem to find it. Rereading Little Women is always a little bit like going back home, back to a time when things seemed a little simpler, even if they weren’t, and when fun and adventure could be had without much money–only a very good friend. And the characters? 152 years later, they are still relevant and still relatable. They have not aged at all. Not for me and not for the many fans who still love them.

Older and (hopefully) wiser, I can see now why Little Women continues to charm me with its story of four girls hoping to grow up to be good little women. I appreciate that four very different girls still love and support each other, even when they do not understand each other. I am impressed at how Louisa May Alcott enters so unreservedly into childhood, and reminds grown-up readers how painfully important everything can seem when you are young. I love that everyday moments are depicted as meaningful and interesting, and that simplicity is honored and not scorned. Still, even as I recognized these important features of the book, reading Little Women is always an emotional act for me, not solely an intellectual one.

Little Women is, yes, for me, a bit of escapism. I love returning to a time when girls could make their own fun at home by baking or reading or going on a picnic. I love the thrill of attending balls with Meg, of having adventures with Jo and Laurie, of setting off to new places as the girls grow. I love how fully they seem to live their lives, taking in each present moment. They may not be saving the world or learning magic or beating up bad guys, but their lives are interesting. And I just like being a part of it. In the end, can you give a book any greater praise than that?

Why I Wouldn’t Change the Ending of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

Spoilers for Little Women abound in this post! Read ahead at your own risk!

Jo’s rebuttal of Laurie’s marriage proposal in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has upset generations of readers. The best of friends, the two seem meant for each other. Instead, Alcott weds Jo to a man twice her age and matches Laurie with Amy, as if being denied one sister meant he would just have to try another. (Amy, of course, gets Laurie’s money.) For many, the pairings are deeply unsatisfying. Personally, I never could accept Laurie and Amy, but I have always loved Jo and Professor Bhaer.

Alcott’s choice to wed Jo to a non-traditional hero was quite deliberate. In the late 1860s, she wrote to a friend, “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life. I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please any one.” Her original plan was to leave Jo single–or wedded to her work, if you prefer. However, her publisher insisted that Little Women would not sell if Jo remained unmarried. The middle-aged Professor Bhaer is Alcott’s attempt to subvert traditional gender roles. If Jo must marry, it will be on her own terms–not to the young, handsome, and wealthy boy readers expect.

Although I can easily imagine an alternate world in which Jo does marry Laurie, I respect Alcott’s decision to subvert readers’ expectations. So often teenage characters fall in love and immediately find “The One.” But real life does not work that way. Real life is messy. Most individuals will probably date more than one person, before they find the one they marry. I like that Little Women reflects this, that Little Women says it is okay to fall in love, but also to fall in love again.

I also like that Alcott basically responded to her publisher’s (sexist) demands with her own wicked twist. She gave her publisher a marriage, but not necessarily a romantic one. Professor Bhaer disapproves of Jo’s sensationalist stories, which, for many readers, makes him instantly unlikable. (Personally, I choose to read his disapproval as true concern for someone he cares about.) Their romance proceeds, not smoothly, but with awkwardness and misunderstandings. It ends in the mud and in the rain, under an umbrella. Prince Charming Professor Bhaer is not–indeed he seems the very opposite of the smooth, polished Laurie, who woos Amy at balls and on foreign lakes. So Alcott gets the last laugh. There is a marriage, but probably not the one her publisher wanted.

The ending is, to me, however, profoundly romantic–and that is one of the key reasons I would never wish it changed. I love that Alcott took an “ordinary” woman whose only good feature is ostensibly her hair and an “ordinary” middle-aged man who seems a bit grumpy at times and gave them a love story. I love that she took two awkward people and threw them together in a bunch of awkward moments–and that could not change how they felt about each other. I love that they profess their love to each other messy and uncomfortable in the rain. They are nothing like a fairy tale couple. They are better, because they seem real. And so Little Women tells us love is possible for everyone, not just the charming or the young or the beautiful or the rich.

In light of Alcott’s views on her characters, the news that Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz will release a retelling of Little Women called Jo & Laurie in which Jo ends up with Laurie has not resonated well with all fans. The current Goodreads reviews show a number of readers upset that reimagining the ending of Little Women is an insult to Alcott’s feminist vision. For my own part, I agree that (obviously) Jo and Laurie marrying each other is not what Alcott wanted. It is, in fact, not what I want, either, so I probably will not read this new book.

However, I see no harm in fans of Little Women releasing an alternate version of the story. That is what fans do. They take a story and they make it their own. They try out different story lines and different endings. Alcott may not have wanted Jo and Laurie married, but plenty of fans throughout the years have disagreed with her. Releasing a retelling will not take away Little Women from us. Those of us who ship Jo and Professor Bhaer will still have Alcott’s vision to delight and move us.

Little Women Post Master List: All You Need to Tide You Over Until the New 2019 Film

Discussions

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Reviews

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Recommendations

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero (Author) and Bre Indigo (Illustrator)

Information

Goodreads: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Feb. 2019

Summary

The March sisters are facing a Christmas without presents as their mom works late shifts as a nurse and their father serves overseas.  But they soon realize that others have it worse than they do, and that there is still plenty in life to appreciate.  Together, they will face whatever life throws at them and come out stronger.  A graphic novel retelling of Little Women set in modern-day New York City.

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Review

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is a Little Women updated for a modern audience.  This means not only setting the story in modern-day New York City and featuring the Marches as a blended family, but also espousing contemporary values.  Where Louisa May Alcott’s original novel may be said to have promoted virtues such as humility, hard work, and cheerfulness, Rey Terciero’s re-imagining promotes values of inclusion, diversity, and feminism.  In many ways, this feels like the Little Women many readers have wanted all along.

If readers have one criticism with Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, I suspect that it will be that the messages can be heavy-handed.  However, this feels true to the original, which occasionally has Marmee give speeches to the girls about the lessons they should learn.  If Louisa May Alcott can do it, so can Terciero.  So I accepted this as in the spirit of the original and enjoyed the story mightily.  It does a fine job of updating the messages to reflect the cultural values American audiences are more likely to accept as givens, showing, for instance, Meg at a party, not learning to be dress more modestly, but learning that she should be proud of who she is and kind to others.

The story, however, was unfortunately paced a little oddly.  Even though the book only covers the first half of Little Women, parts of the story, such as Jo and Amy’s reconciliation, feel rushed.  In only a few pages, Jo grows angry, snubs Amy, then realizes she loves her sister and never wants to lose her.  Rushing scenes such as this lessens the emotional impact, making Jo’s anger seem less serious and less harmful, and taking away from the strength she needed to forgive her sister.  I do not think this is the result of the graphic novel format, which is read more quickly than plain text.  Instead, I think the author needed to have more scenes or a passage of time indicated, between Jo’s anger and her forgiveness.  Other scenes could have benefited from more time spent on them, as well.

Overall, however, Little Women is a fun, enjoyable middle-grade read.  I suspect the target audience will fall in love both with the bright colors and friendly artwork, and with the sisters themselves, who present a picture of a strong and loving family.  Little Women is a timeless story–and part of that is seen in  how easily a story of sisterly love can be updated to any time period.

4 stars

The New Modern Little Women Movie Looks Like Everything the 2017 BBC Mini Series Wanted to Be

On September 28, 2018, a contemporary version of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women will open in U.S. theatres–a fine way to celebrate the work’s 150th anniversary.  Modernizing Alcott’s work is no insignificant task.  Somehow, the film must appeal to fans of the original, capturing its spirit, while also recognizing that the morals espoused by writers of the 1860s are not necessarily morals cherished today.  A film where Meg is depicted as wrong for wearing revealing clothing is, quite simply, not very modern at all.  The trailer, however, suggests that the filmmakers took a very sensible route: the story will retain an overall “moral” message about the need to become a better person–but the virtues used to become so will be modern ones.

This approach is sensible because the 2017 BBC adaptation of Little Women shows how exactly how meaningless the story can become when any morals or messages are removed from the work.  (You can read my full critique of this version here.)  In an effort to steer away from “old-fashioned” ideas like the notion that Meg is vain for putting on a low-cut gown and  make-up, or that Jo is wrong to immerse herself in “bad” literature, the mini series ultimately suggests that the characters have no need to change.  Why should they?  They’re never wrong in the first place.  The result is that a story about character growth shows no character growth at all.

What I gather from the trailer for the 2018 film is that the filmmakers have decided to illustrate character growth–but character growth of a different kind.  Alcott’s work is about moral character growth.  Meg goes from being vain and jealous of riches to being able to find happiness in a poor man’s cottage.  Amy goes from being proud to realizing that she need not be famous to be happy.  Jo goes from being hot-headed and impulsive to finding ways she can channel her energy productively.  And Beth?  She illustrates how simple virtues can be heroic.

In contrast, the 2018 adaptation seems to be focusing on personal character growth or perhaps academic or professional character growth.  The opening shows Marmee gifting her daughters, not spiritual texts, but “castles in the air” for them to fill.  The film is clearly going to be about the four sisters learning to follow their dreams, whether that means running their own home, pursuing art, becoming a famous writer, or simply being with the people they love.  The virtues being celebrated will not be the nineteenth century’s modesty, humility, patience, and cheerfulness, but rather the modern virtues of confidence, courage, and perseverance.  The message is not that you become better by focusing on your soul, but that you become better by becoming who you were “meant to be”–whatever that means to you.

Frankly, this seems like possibly the best way for the story to be updated in a realistic manner, retain something of the original, and still be palatable–even relevant–to a good number of modern viewers.  It may not fully satisfy ardent fans of the original.  It may be disappointing to viewers who still value Alcott’s virtues.  But it does show how a nineteenth century story can be translated into a new era, and, in the process, reveals our changing attitudes on what it means to be one’s best self.

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