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The Lost Summer Book Cover

Title: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Author:  Kelly O’Connor McNees

No. of Pages:  352

First Published:  April 2010

Synopsis (Courtesy of Joseph-Beth Booksellers): “Millions of readers have fallen in love with “Little Women.” But how could Louisa May Alcott-who never had a romance-write so convincingly of love and heart-break without experiencing it herself?

Deftly mixing fact and fiction, Kelly O’Connor McNees imagines a love affair that would threaten Louisa’s writing career-and inspire the story of Jo and Laurie in “Little Women.” Stuck in small-town New Hampshire in 1855, Louisa finds herself torn between a love that takes her by surprise and her dream of independence as a writer in Boston. The choice she must make comes with a steep price that she will pay for the rest of her life. “

Comments and Critique:  Little Women remains one of my favorite childhood novels.  It is one of the first “big” books I remember reading as a little girl, and like millions of girls before and since, I fell in love with Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.  Because I much prefer to read fiction rather than research authors, I only know the basic premise of Louisa Alcott’s life, but I requested this advanced reading copy because of my affection for Little Women.  When I started noticing positive buzz from my fellow bloggers, I opened to the first page with low expectations in an effort to avoid disappointment.  Happily, not only were my expectations met, they were completely exceeded by this engaging, enticing book that successfully blurs fact and fiction. 

The writing is absolutely phenomenal.  Ms. McNees brought Louisa and her family to life, creating a crystal-clear picture of life in New England in the 1850s.  Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy literally come to life as Louisa’s real-life sisters, and the reader comes to complete understanding of what sacrifices were made by the Alcott family in order to allow Bronson to live according to his transcendental philosophy. 

Interwoven throughout the action is an undercurrent of tragedy.  Are choices ever easy?  Should they be?  Of particular importance is the idea of women’s reliance on men and the consequences of that reliance.  Exemplified by the Alcott’s perpetual suffering and destitution because of Bronson’s ideals and Joseph’s choice between happiness and duty in the form of the care of his sister, women had few choices for happiness and security.  In fact, Louisa’s struggle highlights the unfair choices offered to women either through convention or society. 

Given those societal norms, Louisa’s story and ultimate success are all the more remarkable.  Rather than pigeonhole her into a marriage and allow her to wither away as a housewife, both her parents supported her reading and writing.  They encouraged her to make her own way in society, and, if Ms. McNees’ research is correct, gave her the push out the door she needed to step out on her own – all at a time when women just did not live by themselves and write for a living.  Given what other women faced at a similar time period, this truly is an amazing show of support, and readers everywhere are the better for it.

For those of us who grew up relating to Jo, you will absolutely relate to and love Louisa.  Just like Jo, she prefers to read versus doing anything else, especially housework.  She has a deep-seeded need to be alone every so often.  Like Jo, she has a tendency to over-dramatics and depression plus issues with her temper.  Her opinions of marriage and motherhood are extremely modern, and as she discovers throughout the novel, unique when compared to her contemporaries and fellow sisters.  Readers can definitely see glimpses of Jo in Louisa, even as Louisa takes on a life of her own.

I cannot do justice to this book.  It truly is amazing in its depth and detail.  More importantly, Ms. McNees provides plenty of food for thought on women’s plight and station in life, especially as we compare our lives and choices today with those in the 1800s.  I highly recommend The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott to historical fiction lovers or to anyone who fell in love with the March sisters. 

Thank you to Lydia Hirt at Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam for this advanced reading copy!  It is greatly appreciated.  This does count for my 100+ Reading Challenge and my Read ‘n Review Challenge.

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