Saturday, May 29, 2010
The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees is the fictional account of a summer spent in Walpole, MA by LMA and her family. The novel is an interesting combination of history and fiction - the Alcott family did spend the summer of 1855 in Walpole and many other elements of the novel are historically accurate but the story told in the novel is the author's creation . . . and it is delightful!
The Alcotts arrive in Walpole in July 1855. Because Louisa's father, Bronson, is absorbed by his philosophical pursuits and does not perform traditional work, the family is frequently in financial straits and they move often. The Alcott girls quickly settle into life in Walpole making friends with contemporaries and even taking part in the preparation for the production of a play by the area youth.
Like the character Jo in Little Women, Louisa resists tradition and doesn't settle in as easily as her sisters. In many ways, Louisa seemed ahead of her time in opposing the traditional roles assigned to women and in wanting to pursue a writing career. Her strident independence could not co-exist with romantic love and that presented conflicts for her as she felt her love for Joseph Singer growing. I found her independence admirable and impressive but was struck by how black and white it all seemed - I am thankful that women can now integrate love, a career and a family and are not forced to make such a stark choice between love and career.
I will leave the sketch of the plot there so as not to reveal too much - since this is based on LMA's life, you may know a lot of the plot from books about her life but I would rather not ruin it for anyone that is not as familiar with her life story. This book was a true delight - it brought back many fond memories of Little Women from my childhood. I never realized that Little Women was so closely based on Alcott's own life so I was pleasantly surprised to see how much this novel reminded me of my favorite characters from the classic novel. It definitely reignited by passion for Little Women and I will be going back to re-read it!
I was fortunate enough to read this book as part of a Reading Series hosted by Trish at Hey Lady Whatcha Readin? and she held a discussion with the author on her blog which you can see here. Kelly O'Connor McNees offered great insight into the characters, her research for the book and Louisa May Alcott's life during the discussion. I love how she turned an interest in and passion for this author into the subject of a novel; by the way, the passion pays off - the extensive research performed by the author is evident throughout even though the novel reads as a work of fiction.
I recommend this book to long time Little Women fans who will revel in the memories brought back by reading about the Alcott clan but also to anyone who may not know LMA or Little Women - the story is charming and more than stands on it's own!