Touchstone Books - Published by Simon & Schuster, 2011. ISBN 978-1-451-61718-4.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 06/22/2011
Gabrielle Donnelly's The Little Women Letters is a delightful road trip down a new path, walking side by side with a new generation of sisters, descended from the remarkable Jo March. A novel, of course, but for many of us, Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth are as real as members of our own families.
And in that sense of realism and familial ties, comes this story. Just as with Louisa May Alcott's classic work, Little Women, the story revolves around a family, this time a fully modern family. There is Fee, an American who has married an Englishman and brings to the story the flavor and history of America, feminism, and a strong sense of who she is, and where she is going. Her husband David owns an independent publishing house dealing with travel books, and is a man with a great love for his three daughters, Emma, Lulu and Sophie, and a quirky sense of humor (his "invisible wife" Claire is a hysterical addition to the plot.) The family lives in London, and this chronicle revolves around their lives, their relationships and family history brought alive.
Our storyteller is Lulu, the daughter in the middle: bright, unconventional, eccentric and conflicted. With a mass of wild hair, a biting wit and a stubbornness that will not let her family railroad her into a career, or a life, that she doesn't want, she finds family letters in the musty attic. The Atwaters have long known that American Great-Grandma Jo was a vital part of the female line. This history that has come down to them through time, and includes their own American Aunt Amy, much like the Aunt March of the Alcott tales. This American Aunt is the impetus that takes Lulu to the attic on the prowl for family recipes. What she finds is a treasure trove.
In her late 20s, Lulu is on a search for self. Her college degree, validating her cleverness and brightness, is in science, but she has absolutely no interest in pursuing a career in sciences. Her older sister, like Meg in Little Women, is a calm, centered, focused woman. Emma has a career, is engaged to be married, and is eminently sensible. The baby of the family is the blonde, vivacious, talkative Sophie, a budding actress with talent and enthusiasm who knows her path and is determined to be a success. Each daughter has a vital role in Donnelly's plot, but it is the intrepid Lulu who brings them all together. Although she keeps her rendezvous with Grandma Jo's letters a secret from everyone, what she reads begins to flavor and influence her life.
Gently and with great charm, Donnelly weaves her stories around us. What will Emma do about the oh-so-delicious designer shoes that call to her? How will Sophie handle the games people play in the world of television acting? Will Fee and David weather a bump in their road of happily married bliss? What role will the tender, shy Jamie play in Sophie's life? Will there be happily ever after for Lulu? This novel is a tale of family relationships, of the way our family history sneaks up on us and shows us how family ties are the most important thing there is. It is a funny, silly, affectionate, evocative and emotional book, without being trite, commonplace or nauseatingly mushy. It is a delightful read.
Jo March was a part of my life, and Little Women and its sequels have a place of honor on my bookshelf. I think this book may join them! Enjoy!
Read an excerpt from this book.
Gabrielle Donnelly was born in London and has known that she wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. The Little Women Letters is her fifth novel. She is a Corporator of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House Museum in Concord, Massachusetts. She presently lives and writes in Los Angeles, CA. Visit her website.
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