The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
By Kelly O'Connor McNees
Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2010
What young girl hasn't fallen in love with Louisa May Alcott's Little Women? It had such an impact on me when I read it that I distinctly remember where I sat to read the majority of the book. It was my favorite book of all time when I was ten years old and stayed in the top spot until I read Gone With the Wind five years later. I loved Little Women and I was inspired by their creator, Louisa May Alcott. Even at the age of ten, I knew that her success wasn't the norm for women during the mid 1800s. I envisioned her as a pioneer, a role model. And when I discovered Kelly O'Connor McNees' The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, I knew I had to read it. And I wasn't disappointed.
The concept of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is rather intriguing. The author paired extensive research with her vivid imagination to create what could have happened during one particular summer of Alcott's life. It is the one summer that is mostly absent from her journals and correspondence. I liked to think of this book as a speculative biography. The author has a disclaimer of sorts explaining how she came up with the story, what was true and verifiable, and what came from her imagination. None of this information, provided at the end of the book, detracts from this poignant and beautiful story.
The 'lost summer' begins just after the Alcott family moves to Walpole, New Hampshire to take up residence in a house owned, but unused, by their uncle. The Alcott family, father Bronson, mother Abba, and four daughters: Anna Louisa, Lizzie, and May, often rely on the generosity of family and close friends because Bronson pursues lofty philosophical goals rather than work to support his family. Their poverty bothers the Alcott daughters, but they understand that their father is staying true to himself by reading and discussing the moral and philosophical topics of the day, rather than performing manual labor for a living. Their father often conversed with the great minds of the day, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
At 22, Louisa is biding her time and saving her earnings from previous publications so she can set out for Boston to make a name and a living for herself as a writer. This is a far cry from her older sister Anna's goal of finding a husband and setting up housekeeping. To pass the time, Louisa accompanies her sister on various household errands social outings with other young people in Walpole. During their first excursion, the girls enter a general store in search of material for curtains and encounter the proprietor's son, Joseph Singer.
Oh Joseph! *swoon*
Louisa comes of age in her relationship with Joseph. At first, she is annoyed by him. Then, she thinks he has his eye on her sister, Anna. She finally gets the idea that Joseph is interested in her during an outing to the circus for Joseph's sister's birthday. Louisa struggles to pair her feelings for Joseph with her desires to start anew in Boston and pursue her writing. Joseph, on the other hand, must choose between his heart and his family; should he pursue Louisa who has his heart or should be marry for money to secure his sister's future and pay off his ailing father's debts?
Anyone who has read Little Women may have an idea on how this story will unfold, but it is definitely worth the read anyway. Kelly O'Connor McNees is an artful storyteller and her love for Louisa May Alcott and Little Women shines through and makes this story unforgettable and an instant favorite. Reading this book also made me want to reread Little Women, which I pulled off my bookshelf as soon as I finished reading McNees' book.
Stay tuned for my review of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. It will be interesting to see how my views of my childhood favorite have changed since I first read it 18 years ago.