Friday, December 27, 2019
Published December 2019 by Berkley
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review
The March sisters—reliable Meg, independent Jo, stylish Amy, and shy Beth—have grown up to pursue their separate dreams. When Jo followed her ambitions to New York City, she never thought her career in journalism would come crashing down, leaving her struggling to stay afloat in a gig economy as a prep cook and secret food blogger. Meg appears to have the life she always planned—the handsome husband, the adorable toddlers, the house in a charming subdivision. But sometimes getting everything you’ve ever wanted isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When their mother’s illness forces the sisters home to North Carolina for the holidays, they’ll rediscover what really matters. One thing’s for sure—they’ll need the strength of family and the power of sisterhood to remake their lives and reimagine their dreams.
To say that I went into this book hesitantly would be an understatement. In general, I’m not a fan of fan fic of my beloved classics and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of my most beloved beloveds. And as you might have figured out by looking at the cover, Virginia Kantra is a romance writer. Which is why, after 30 or so books, I've never heard of her. But, oh, Jo March! I always wanted to be Jo March when I was growing up - fearless, independent, a writer. So I decided to see what Kantra would make of her.
I gotta tell ya, I enjoyed this one. It's not great literature and there are some issues I had with some plotting. But Kantra is clearly familiar with both Little Women and Alcott's sequel, Little Men, as well as the truth of Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott. So how'd Kantra do with the girls I grew up loving?
Meg: modern Meg is very much the Meg of Alcott's books - wonderful mother, devoted wife. And she still has her richy rich friends. But this Meg also wants more - she wants to pursue her passion for numbers and be a partner in her marriage, not just the little woman (ha! you see what I did there?!).
Jo: still wants to be a writer, still wants to find her way in the big city, still doesn't want to end up with Laurie (although he's Trey here) and is still impulsive. But now she's battling modern writing problems. She gets downsized out of her journalist job and is working to build an audience for her blog. But now there's a whole lot of cooking involved. And she has to come to terms with the person her father really is.
Beth: this was the tough one for me. Because (cover your eyes if you don't want to have Little Women spoiled!) Beth never gets to be an adult in Alcott's books. There's not a lot for Kantra to work with. Beth is still sweet, still loves music, and still would rather fade into the background. While Kantra does put her out in the world and make her stretch her wings, she doesn't find a way to bring Beth out of the shadows.
Amy: still the baby of the family, still the one obsessed with her looks and fashion and art. Still driving Jo nuts. Except...this Amy is growing up. She is starting to think of others. And she is not taking any one's leftover boys (if you've read Little Women, I think you'll know what I'm talking about). I think I was most impressed with how Kantra took the material Alcott gave her for Amy and ran with it.
As for the supporting cast? Marmee is now Momma but she's still the rock of the family. To get the family to learn to stand on their own, Kantra has to sort of set her to the side. But she also gives Momma the backbone that Marmee (and Abigail Alcott) both lacked when it comes to her husband. Laurie (now Trey) was a bit of a disappointment; he never seems move beyond his love of Jo, which he does in Alcott's books. As for Professor Bhaer? He is now a smoking hot, world-renowned chef with an ex-wife and two teenage sons.
Although the resolution of Jo and Eric Bhaer's relationship doesn't entirely work for me (Jo never does seem to take responsibility for what she does that drives a wedge between them and I felt a little bit like his sons were mere props) and the book lacks the weight of the source material (even though Kantra does address concerns about PTSD and homelessness among veterans), overall I enjoyed the way Kantra wrapped up the book. Everyone has learned something and grown. Even though there are still some things to be worked out, you're left knowing that everything will be alright.