Saturday, June 22, 2019

I haven't re-read Little Women, Louisa May Alcott's classic, in years. Unless my memory fails me, I read it the first time in the first grade. I have always found reading a social activity, so I want to read what my friends read. Honestly, these days, I want my friends to read  what I  read. In elementary school, my favorite bookish friend was Elaine. I've surely mentioned her and her mom, our elementary librarian, many times here on this blog, particularly since the title Discriminating Reader is an allusion to what Mrs. Comer wrote in my 3rd grade yearbook. Many of the classics I encountered as an early reader were influenced by the friendship--The Wizard of Oz, Charlotte's Web, Island of the Blue Dolphins--to name a few.

Recently, I read Anne Boyd Rioux's nonfiction work Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Matters. She had researched Alcott's life and how it related to her novel, as well as the history of the book, the movies, and even the other works influenced by Little Women. Around the same time, my granddaughter came home with a list of classic novels from which to choose. The only stipulation was she couldn't re-read. It had to be a new book to her. I just happened to have a copy (or three) of the novel. I got to see her culminating response to the book, a video she produced with the help of some of her neighborhood friends.

Todd's novel The Spring Girls makes no bones about its being a retelling of the story, particularly since almost none of the names are changed. (Marmie becomes Meredith, but the girls' names and even Laurie are the originals.)  In this case, though, they are living in military housing in Louisiana while their father serves in Afghanistan. The book opens on Christmas day with the same line from Little Women: "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents." Jo is still the central character, a tomboy with aspirations of going to New York to become a writer.  Beth  is a recluse, home-schooled by choice.  Meg, the oldest sister, is trying to outrun a bad reputation in their previous hometown, hard to do in the days of social media. Feisty little Amy is young enough that her aspirations vary according to which older sister is her model for that particular day.

The book also has its share of romance in bloom--between Jo and Laurie, Meg and her recent West Point graduate John Brooke and the Middle Eastern son of her employer (a wealthy woman who keeps Meg around to do her makeup.) Meanwhile, their mother whom they call by her first name Meredith is so distracted by her husband's absence and then by his injury (which should not be a spoiler if you read Little Women) that she sometimes seems to overlook what her daughters are going through. Her loose expectations of her girls certainly diverge from what Marmie might have taught her four daughters, not batting an eye when Meg spends the weekend with her newly returned boyfriend (whom she hopes will become her fiancé) at a fancy New Orleans hotel.

As Rioux noted, plenty of other variations on the story have been produced. A retelling or adaptation doesn't take away from the first experience of reading the novel. I just wonder if knowledge of how the Jo-Laurie romance ends up--after this book closes--might have affected my reading.
Share/Save/Bookmark

No comments: