By Gabrielle Donnelly
Published by Touchstone, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., June 2011
Copy borrowed from the library
What's it about? Courtesy of Goodreads:
Vibrant, fresh, and intelligent, The Little Women Letters explores the imagined lives of Jo March’s descendants—three sisters who are both thoroughly modern and thoroughly March. As uplifting and essential as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Gabrielle Donnelly’s novel will speak to anyone who’s ever fought with a sister, fallen in love with a fabulous pair of shoes, or wondered what on earth life had in store for her.
With her older sister, Emma, planning a wedding and her younger sister, Sophie, preparing to launch a career on the London stage, Lulu can’t help but feel like the failure of the Atwater family. Lulu loves her sisters dearly and wants nothing but the best for them, but she finds herself stuck in a rut, working dead-end jobs with no romantic prospects in sight. When her mother asks her to find a cache of old family recipes in the attic of her childhood home, Lulu stumbles across a collection of letters written by her great-great-grandmother Josephine March. In her letters, Jo writes in detail about every aspect of her life: her older sister, Meg’s, new home and family; her younger sister Amy’s many admirers; Beth’s illness and the family’s shared grief over losing her too soon; and the butterflies she feels when she meets a handsome young German. As Lulu delves deeper into the lives and secrets of the March sisters, she finds solace and guidance, but can the words of her great-great-grandmother help Lulu find a place for herself in a world so different from the one Jo knew? Vibrant, fresh, and intelligent, The Little Women Letters explores the imagined lives of Jo March’s descendants—three sisters who are both thoroughly modern and thoroughly March. As uplifting and essential as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Gabrielle Donnelly’s novel will speak to anyone who’s ever fought with a sister, fallen in love with a fabulous pair of shoes, or wondered what on earth life had in store for her.
Some things, of course, remain unchanged: the stories and jokes that form a family’s history, the laughter over tea in the afternoon, the desire to do the right thing in spite of obstacles. And above all, of course, the fierce, undying, and often infuriating bond of sisterhood that links the Atwater women every bit as firmly as it did the March sisters all those years ago. Both a loving tribute to Little Women and a wonderful contemporary family story, The Little Women Letters is a heartwarming, funny, and wise novel for today.
I was nervous about picking up Gabrielle Donnelly's The Little Women Letters. Little Women is one of my all-time favorite books. I reread it for the first time in 18 years earlier this year. Check out my review here. I also read, reviewed, and absolutely adored Kelly O'Connor McNees, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, published in 2010. These books raised the bar, so to speak, for Donnelly in my opinion and she just couldn't reach it.
There were a few parts of the story that bothered me. The great-great-great granddaughters of Jo March live in London? As much as I enjoy a book set in London, it was a major hurdle for me here. In my opinion, descendants of the beloved Little Women belong in America, Massachusetts in particular.
Lulu is supposed to be the Atwater family's version of Jo, but Lulu hasn't a clue as to what she wants to do and has no interest in writing. She is the one who finds the letters between the March sisters in her parents' attic and pores over them for the better part of the year, but it isn't enough for me to believe that she is a good enough modern day version of Jo March. Here's another part of Lulu that bothered me. She had no idea what to do with her life, even after obtaining a degree in biochemistry. She loves to cook and is extremely good at it though. No one in her family, in their constant prattling and pushing to get Lulu gainfully employed, ever though to suggest cooking as a vocation. *face palm*
Also, there were aspects of the story that just didn't seem to fit. Why did Fee and David Atwater, the girls' parents, have marital problems? Why was so much attention paid to Emma's boyfriend Matthew's parents and their inability to be in the same room as each other? I didn't understand Charlie's motivation for allowing Lulu and Sophie to live in her flat basically rent fee. And what was the deal with Tom the lodger? Was he solely a plot device to keep Lulu moving through the narrative because she was too static to move herself? And again, why couldn't her family suggest cooking school to her?
While I was muddling my way through a story that I just couldn't buy into, I was forced to endure some of the most verbose and repetitive prose I've read in a while. It seems that the old writing adage 'show, don't tell' was lost on the author. It dramatically slowed the pacing and made it dull and boring for a good portion of the novel.
Overall, I'm not impressed by Donnelly's modern day spin of the beloved March sisters and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. On a scale of one (I hated it!) to five (I loved it!), I give The Little Women Letters a two.