LITTLE WOMEN. Almost everybody has an association with those two words. That title is recognized as the American classic by Louisa May Alcott, and reading the book is a rite of passage for millions of Americans. The story of four sisters growing up during the Civil War in beautiful New England has a resonance that casts its glow over many generations of readers. But what would you change if you ever had the chance to write your own version of the book? I can’t say that I would change anything (except for Meg to be a little more adventurous). However, in LITTLE WOMEN AND ME, Emily, a middle sister who is not happy about it, uses this school assignment not only to rewrite the classic, but to forum some specific changes about her own family.
"LITTLE WOMEN AND ME is a fun, breezy book that makes you think and laugh at the same time. And any book that will encourage kids to go back and take a good long hard look at classic American literature is a wonderful book indeed."
Emily first looks at the usual stuff: Why kill off Beth? Why have Laurie fall in love with Amy and not end up with Jo? But answering these age-old questions (they most likely occur to all readers of the book at some point) proves harder than she had thought because of the beautifully constructed worldview of the novel. It’s hard to take apart something that good. Eventually, Emily finds herself using the March girls as a sounding board for her own hopes and fears as it pertains to her own sisters. In doing so, Emily completely transports herself into the world of LITTLE WOMEN, bringing with her all the trappings of contemporary life to hilarious ends. Hearing Emily call Laurie “Dude” is pretty disconcerting, but funny at the same time.
Emily’s contemporary swagger should be very annoying when used in the company of characters whose lives are so much more polite and ordered, although equally messy emotional. But Emily uses her 21st-century freedoms to get the March girls to loosen up just a bit --- such as allowing Laurie to write for The Twist Times, the family newspaper Jo regales everyone with on a regular basis, giving Beth privacy to play her music when she gets her piano and turning down Jo’s request so she could play something a little less old-fashioned. And somehow it works.
This is a cute book that respects all the original and wonderful details of Alcott’s story of the four sisters, but Emily’s modern swing puts a fun spin on this well-known tale. Although written for younger audiences, it does require that the reader has some prior knowledge of LITTLE WOMEN. The novel clears the way for so many more young girls (and boys) to enjoy the March sisters’ adventures, as they were originally told and as they are reconsidered by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, a wonderfully imaginative and bright writer.
I highly recommend this book as a book club choice. Book groups can read the original LITTLE WOMEN and then check out this one to see how they compare. Would you have made the same choices as Emily? Or very different ones? LITTLE WOMEN AND ME is a fun, breezy book that makes you think and laugh at the same time. And any book that will encourage kids to go back and take a good long hard look at classic American literature is a wonderful book indeed.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on February 29, 2012