Millions of readers have fallen in love with Little Women. But how could Louisa May Alcott-who never had a romance-write so convincingly of love and heart-break without experiencing it herself? Deftly mixing fact and fiction, Kelly O'Connor McNees imagines a love affair that would threaten Louisa's writing career-and inspire the story of Jo and Laurie in Little Women. Stuck in small-town New Hampshire in 1855, Louisa finds herself torn between a love that takes her by surprise and her dream of independence as a writer in Boston. The choice she must make comes with a steep price that she will pay for the rest of her life.
I couldn't help it. The entire time I was reading this book, I had the soundtrack to Little Women (1994) running through my head. You can't help but compare this fictional version of Louisa Alcott's life to her own novel based on her personal life. It's too uncanny to not see the resembles between the two sets of sisters. I love historical fiction and Louisa Alcott is like the American version of Jane Austen so I was really eager to read this book.
The core of this book, like Little Women itself, is family. The sisters in the book are very close and you feel a real kinship with them. I did get annoyed at Bronson Alcott and how he kept making his family suffer just because of his philosophical whims. It would be one thing for him to do it by himself, but then to force his wife and children was just wrong. The thing that got on my nerves the most was his refusal to work for money even though his family was almost destitute. Luckily, his wife is just as strong as Marmee March and provides the stability that her daughters need that they cannot get from their father. The sisters are all very close and provide the closeness and friendship each young woman needs in her life.
Louisa is very much like Jo, as she's headstrong and a writer. However she doesn't see herself getting married because that would deter her from fulfilling her lifelong dream. Her relationship with Joseph complicates all this and she finds herself at odds with whether to follow her heart or her dreams. I have to admit, I was a bit shocked at what happened in the middle of the book. Maybe it's because I kept picturing Jo, but what Louisa and Joseph did rather surprised me. Mind you, it's nothing overly graphic or even descriptive but just the implications made me raise my eyebrows.
Also I'm a bit slow because it wasn't until near the last chapter where it dawned on me where the name Josephine might have come from. I can't believe I went through almost the entire book and didn't realize it. This book also reminded me very of the movie Becoming Jane, where again another famous author is fictionalized about a romance that inspired one of her heroines. While it's not a direct duplication, there are lots of similarities that made me think of the other. Overall, I really enjoyed reading the book. As I stated earlier, I love historical fiction and I really like reading fictionalized accounts of famous historical figures as long as they are kept in character and not become too modern. This book wonderfully blends the true nature of Alcott with the hope of what could have been. This is a wonderful debut from McNees and I'll be looking forward to reading future books from her.
The Lost Summer of Lousia May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees is published by Amy Einhorn Books (2010)
This ARC was provided for a blog tour with TLC Book Tours