Book Review: The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

Title: The Little Women Letters
Author: Gabrielle Donnelly
Year Published: 2011
Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: I received an Advanced Reading Copy at Book Expo America.

The Little Women Letters is Gabrielle Donnelly’s imagining of a future generation of the March sisters, who first appeared in Louisa May Alcott’s book, Little Women. The Atwater sisters of London are direct descendents of Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s classic semi-autobiographical novel.

The Atwaters are a modern London family consisting of Fee, the feminist American mother; David, the good-natured British father; and daughters Emma, the perfect sister planning her wedding; Lulu, the rebel; and Sophie, the ambitious actress. They have not been particularly interested in family history, mocking their New England forebears with exaggerated hillbilly accents.

One day Fee asks her daughter Lulu to search for old family cookbooks in the attic. While searching through dusty family possessions, Lulu discovers a cache of old family letters – including letters Jo March wrote to her sisters, Meg, Amy, and the departed Beth. As Lulu begins to read through the letters, she suddenly realizes that great-great grandmother Jo was not merely some remote ancestor but a real human being with frailties and dreams. As a matter of fact, some of their tribulations that Jo and her sisters faced in the nineteenth century are not so very different from what the Atwater sisters face in the 21st century.

Lulu has been struggling to find her identity and what career path she wants to follow. During the book Lulu wanders through several jobs including at an art and auction house, bar maid, dog walker, and in a toy store. Lulu also despairs of finding romance, wondering if she will ever find a soul mate.

The Little Women Letters is a charming extension of the Little Women story, which began with Little Women, and was followed by Little Men and Jo’s Boys. It does help to have read Louisa May Alcott’s classic although you don’t have to read it to enjoy this story. Sometimes I had to remind myself that Donnelly wrote all of the letters in the book. She has been careful to try to capture the spirit of the original. Interestingly, the real-life Louisa May Alcott had a namesake niece who was nicknamed “Lulu”. Clearly, Donnelly has done her research.

Even though there a couple of difficult events happen, this is a happy book. I would have wished probably more depth to the situations facing the Atwaters, and sometimes I thought the answers were obvious (for example, it was obvious to me from the beginning what Lulu should choose as a career!), but this book is meant to be fun, light reading. If you loved Little Women, you will enjoy The Little Women Letters.

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