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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Most women can recall with fondness reading Louisa May Alcott's Little Women when we were girls. I can still see the cover of my book: chocolate brown, with a color illustration of the March girls. Little Women was one of the first books I can remember reading that gave me a sense that female relationships were important, and that is was OK to be whomever you were.

Kelly O'Connor NcNees has taken the life of Louisa May Alcott and reimagined a pivotal period of her life in this historical novel The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. All of the sisters are there, and McNees is clearly inspired by the style of Alcott, as in this passage describing sister Anna.
Anna practiced compassion like an art form. She knew how to apply it with a delicate hand, knew its gradations and nuances, could distinguish its authentic form from imposters like sympathy and voyeurism. It came naturally to her, almost like a physical impulse.
The writing here is exquisite.

The summer recounted in this novel is the one in which Louisa meets and falls in love with Joseph, a young shopkeeper. While I enjoyed the story of the Alcott family, I felt that the book really captured me when Joseph and Louisa's love started to bloom. This is ironic, given that when I was a young girl, I liked the March sisters' story much more than the romantic Jo/Laurie storyline. Maybe it is a factor of age?

It is interesting comparing the fiction of Little Women, which was based on Alcott's own family, with the historical fiction of the Alcott family in Lost Summer. McNees did a lot of research, read many biographies of Alcott, and I enjoyed how she weaved biographical information, historical information (such as the publication of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass) with her fiction of Alcott's life.

During a recent online chat with the author at heylady.net much discussion arose about the father figure in the story. Louisa's father Bronson was a philosopher, and working for living to provide for his family was not something he was inclined to do. He believed that working for pay violated his conscience. He seemed to leave it to his wife and daughters to provide physically for the family so that he could live according to his beliefs.

Some bloggers felt that he was shirking his responsibilities, yet he was willing to live off the efforts of his wife and daughters. Others felt that he was living up to ideals. I fell into the camp that he was irresponsible, and it was hard to respect him. How can an able-bodied man sit in his study and read while his wife and children do the hard labor? Louisa questioned this as well.

If you have teen girls in your family, Little Women and The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott would make a great gift for them. Reading Lost Summer sent me to my Kindle to download a free copy of Little Women and remembering the summer I spent reading it on my porch.

This is another Amy Einhorn book, and again she has found another wonderful voice in McNees.
Rating 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin?/ TLC Blog Tours for providing a copy of the book for review.


  1. What a wonderful blog.
    Kelly Bookend Diaries

  2. Thanks, Kelly! I look forward to checking out yours too.