From the blurb:
The Little Women Letters explores the imagined lives of Jo March’s descendants—three sisters who are both thoroughly modern and thoroughly March. As uplifting and essential as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Gabrielle Donnelly’s novel will speak to anyone who’s ever fought with a sister, fallen in love with a fabulous pair of shoes, or wondered what on earth life had in store for her.
With her older sister, Emma, planning a wedding and her younger sister, Sophie, preparing to launch a career on the London stage, Lulu can’t help but feel like the failure of the Atwater family. Lulu loves her sisters dearly and wants nothing but the best for them, but she finds herself stuck in a rut, working dead-end jobs with no romantic prospects in sight. When her mother asks her to find a cache of old family recipes in the attic of her childhood home, Lulu stumbles across a collection of letters written by her great-great-grandmother Josephine March. In her letters, Jo writes in detail about every aspect of her life: her older sister, Meg’s, new home and family; her younger sister Amy’s many admirers; Beth’s illness and the family’s shared grief over losing her too soon; and the butterflies she feels when she meets a handsome young German. As Lulu delves deeper into the lives and secrets of the March sisters, she finds solace and guidance, but can the words of her great-great-grandmother help Lulu find a place for herself in a world so different from the one Jo knew?
Some things, of course, remain unchanged: the stories and jokes that form a family’s history, the laughter over tea in the afternoon, the desire to do the right thing in spite of obstacles. And above all, of course, the fierce, undying, and often infuriating bond of sisterhood that links the Atwater women every bit as firmly as it did the March sisters all those years ago. Both a loving tribute to Little Women and a wonderful contemporary family story, The Little Women Letters is a heartwarming, funny, and wise novel for today.
I picked up this novel chiefly for its connection to Little Women, a book I remember fondly from childhood, and was delighted to find that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The characters are colourful and vivid, especially the three sisters – although I found myself most warming to the mother and father, who have a most endearing and inspiring approach to marriage. The family depicted feels real, and I found myself rooting for each member to find an answer to his/her concern. This is a book in which the author clearly thinks carefully about realism, and she handles character development in a mature way that leads to well-rounded, touching characters.
My favourite element of the book is the letters from Jo March that are interspersed with the present-day action. I found myself wanting to re-read the Little Women series afterwards, to see how the letters cleverly tied in. I think the author has done a wonderful job of matching tone and style to Louisa May Alcott’s – no easy task! – and the resultant juxtaposition of the formal, flowing, poetic style of the letters with the modern, jovial style of the present-day description is striking, and makes for interesting, engaging reading.
But for me, what is most powerful in the inclusion of the letters is the bringing together of two different worlds – nineteenth-century American, and twenty-first-century England. I remember reading Little Women as a child and getting a strong sense of the moral lessons imparted, and also being struck by the gentility of the romance back then. Set against the modern sisters’ difficulties in love and careers, the letters provide food for thought as to how society has changed. Jo was always my favourite character in Little Women, and to have her words reach across the decades to comfort and guide her great-great-granddaughter creates a fascinating connection between then and now, allowing the author to explore just what it means to be a woman forging her own path in the world, and finding the love that will last.
This is a book that stands out in the women’s literature genre. It is romance, but it is romance with so much more to offer, with a guaranteed feel-good-factor. It is a must-read for any reader who remembers Little Women fondly – and for those who love books about sisterhood and romance.
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