By Louisa May Alcott
At first I thought I had made a mistake listening to Little Women on audio book (published by AudioGo) rather than reading it, but now I am glad I went ahead with listening to the book rather than reading a physical copy. I am not sure I would have made it past the first handful of chapters. By the end of the book, which I have come to realize is only the first volume originally published in 1868, I finally felt an attachment to the characters. The Good Wives, the second volume (1869) and not titled by Alcott, wasn’t included in this edition even though they have traditionally been combined since 1880. I am disappointed in the lack of volume 2 because I was finally starting to like the characters and, like others who demanded more, wanted to know what would happen to our protagonists. Therefore, I hope to read the second half of the story eventually. I will continue to write this ramble, and count it as my reading, because the novel is Alcott’s completed book before she was encouraged to write more about the sisters.
The story follows the four March sisters: Margaret (Meg), Josephine (Jo), Elizabeth (Beth), and Amy. It takes place over a year from Christmas to Christmas. The girls’ father is out helping with the Civil War and their Mom is at home raising them. I selected this book for the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge for a character with the same name as me, Amy. Amy is an artist and strong-willed. I liked that about her. However, she was also a brat and burned another character’s collection of writings out of vengeance. I did not like that. I mostly found her whiny and annoying, which disappointed me as we share the same name. I hope she improves as she ages in volume 2!
I will praise this book for two major themes: 1. Girls can be independent and 2. The love of family is strong. Their Mom, Marmee, encourages the girls to be confident, marry for love and not for money (if they even want to be married at all), and be self-reliant. For a book written in the 1860s, I am so glad Little Women became a phenomenon. How many young ladies have been influenced by these characters to go out and achieve their dreams? The love of family, blood related or not, is also a major theme I liked. The March sisters, while very sheltered, are deeply loved. Their Mom never fails to care for them, regardless of their transgressions, and regularly encourages the young ladies to be good and moral citizens. Marmee’s unconditional love is what we all hope for in a mother. Humans simply want to be loved and trust that our families will be there to have our back in all of our choices in life. I am extremely blessed with a Mom and Dad who encourage me in every opportunity that I pursue. I can relate to the March sisters in that regard. If anything has held me back, it has been my own lack of confidence. I understand others may not have been as lucky and I hope they found other family or friends to surround them.
While I related to the characters toward the end, I had such a hard time connecting with them at the beginning. The Mom and girls were too perfect, regularly referencing The Pilgrim’s Progress, and doing this or that in the most Christian and upright way. The novel felt overly preachy, like a run-on sermon. It did not help that the voice actress was doing different voices for each character, which made all the girls sound like spoiled brats, yet “perfect little angels.” Not sure how that works, but it is how I feel. The changing voices annoyed me. Another complaint I have is that, despite some character development, nothing much seemed to happen over the course of the year until two family members fell sick. My favorite scenes tended to be when Jo read the newspaper or they would put on “performances.” It reminded me of the playtime scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird or The Bridge to Terabithia. I really enjoyed those scenes!
In reflection, this coming of age novel was actually fun even if it won’t ever make my top 5 favorite novels. When listening to the last handful of chapters, I realized I actually cared what happened to these young ladies. I wondered if Meg would agree to marry, if Jo would continue to write, if Beth would sing and play the piano professionally, or if Amy would continue to improve her art skills. After reading a summary of the second volume’s plot, I am actually quite excited about Amy’s portion of the story and look forward to reading how that will play out in Alcott’s own words.