1/17/12

Little Women and Me, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, for Timeslip Tuesday

Little Women and Me, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted (Bloomsbury, upper middle grade/YA, 320 pages)

The March sisters, the titular "little women" of Louisa May Alcott's classic--Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy--have loomed large in many the young reader's mind. As Emily, the freshman protagonist of Little Women and Me, puts it:

"Girls without any sisters want to have sisters like them. And girls like me, ones with sisters who always make you feel like the least important people in your own families--those girls really wanted to have sisters like them!" (page 13)

And Emily gets her wish one evening while writing an essay about what she would change in Little Women (a difficult choice between saving Beth, and hooking Jo up with Laurie). WHOOSH! [sic] Emily finds herself the middle March girl, living the story along with Meg and co.

And from then on, all the familiar scenes from the book play out, with Emily right there in the thick of things...more or less. The newest March sister has, understandably, a rather vague place in her new family, something that puzzles even the other girls from time to time. But as the seasons pass, jumping from scene to scene from the original story, Emily becomes more and more one of the family...which only increases her determination to change things for the better.

Bartz-Logsted writes with loving affection for the original, mixed with loving fun-poking at the original! And I appreciated this, and enjoyed many parts of it lots.

Little Women (counting, as is the case here, the sequel Good Wives as the same book) is something I can quote chunks of from memory. I do not know how many times I have read it. So on the one hand, I am the perfect reader for the book--I got all the jokes, and enjoyed many of the twists. Except, on the other hand, I'm the most critical type of reader, because of course I would have done things differently, and some of the twists I downright loathed.

And I am also a bad reader for the book because I think Amy and Laurie are the right match for each other. Darn it, I like Amy! She grows up! She changes! Sure, she's a self-centered brat for much of the story, but she's a realistic kid! I must confess that, though I am of course far less self-centered, vain, and concerned with material things than Amy, once I was a teenager and in my twenties (yes, I was still re-reading the book at that point) she was the March sister I felt was most like me...Since Beth dies, she of course was not an option, obvious though my similarities to her are (ha ha). And I re-read that bit on the lake with Amy and Laurie especially often, savoring the romance of it.

So I didn't agree with Emily that the romance part needed to be changed.

But back to Emily's story, and the rather difficult question--does this book work, and for whom? I think you have to be more than a little familiar with the original for it to make any sort of sense, but if that is the case, than sure, it's fine entertainment, even thought-provoking at times when Emily starts questioning the norms of 1860.

I would have liked it more had Emily been a more sympathetic character. She is more self-centered than I would have liked! But this aspect of her personality made the sparks fly between her and Jo, which was fun, and she does become a somewhat improved person (in true Little Women fashion) by the end of the story.

Final word: Don't expect any rational sort of explanation for Emily's experience...the time-slip/reality-slip has to happen for the book to exist, and that's all there is to it!

Note on age: Emily is definitely a modern young teenager, pushing the book YA-ward, but, apart from some competitiveness with Jo to attract the attentions of Laurie, there is nothing content-wise that makes this any less suitable for younger kids than the original!

Not directly related to the book at hand: At one point (in both the original and her) Beth is busily engaged in sorting pine cones, her version of virtuous industry, with some craft in mind (those crazy Victorians!). Never in my life have I said to myself, "Oh how I would like some sorted pine cones," and overcome with curiosity, I turned to google. Perhaps Beth plans to make this, which I found here:
Select good clear cones, and dissect some which have handsome, large scales, and brush them clean; lay nice white putty, or a similar adhesive substance, smoothly on your frame; set into this putty whole cones, large and small, in such figures as suit your taste, and fill the entire groundwork with the scales, lapping one neatly over the other.

Cut oval and round frames for light pictures, from bookbinder's pasteboard, and cover with the scales in layers or rows. Scallop the edges with small whole cones, set in large cones surrounded by little ones equidistant, if the frame be broad, and fill in with the scales. When dry, take out those which are not firm, and replace. Add acorns ad libitum.

Varnish the whole once or twice. If you wish something nice, go over every part with a fine brush, and leave no varnish standing in drops. Cones can be found by almost anyone in an hour's walk through pine woods. Indeed, if one has a taste for the beautiful, and is quick in perception, it is impossible to ramble through woods and fields without finding many curiosities in the shape of mosses, grasses, cones, etc.
I find it hard to imagine actually wanting the final result.

Probably, knowing Beth, she is making cute little pine cone dolls for the poor. I wish Alcott had told us....

17 comments:

  1. Oh, I love Amy best, too. In my case it's more of a wish fulfilment fantasy--I would love to be pretty, and draw well, and go on a Grand Tour of Europe. Not sort pine cones.

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  2. Lol on Amy! Thanks for the fantastic review! With me it's always about "please, don't let her die....pleeeease".

    So true on the time slip. I've just started this one and think the author did a pretty good job at making it just happen and we the reader must go with it.

    Cheers!

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    1. Let me know what you think when you finish!

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  3. Yes. I'm right there with you on the loathsome twists. I have never been a big Amy fan but am in complete agreement that Jo and Laurie are BAD for each other and that relationship went the way it should have. Jo was always my favorite (cliche' I know) and what I didn't like about this was that I felt the twists kind of destroyed Jo's character arc from the original novel. Those things that seem unfair to her made her who she was and that was a better person. Change all that and it is not nearly as powerful a story.

    I wondered about the audience for this one as well. I agree you have to have some familiarity with the original. However, if you know and love the original well a lot of this one doesn't sit right.

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  4. I love Amy and Laurie together, too! Ah, I thought I was the only one! I can go along with Lauren's twist here (I think it was clever), but I actually like the original Jo/Professor and Amy/Laurie pairings a lot.

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  5. It takes a real thinker to put together such great article content such as this. I agree with many of your views here. You make many strong points on the subject. This content is awesome.

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  6. Well I am intrigued. I too was a devoted l am a Little Woman reader and read all of Louisa's books ansd loved them. (with the one exception of a perfectly awful book called "Work.")
    I would try this book, except I have the same quibbles with it you do. I love Professor Behr.

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  7. Glad to hear your take on this. The whole "I would do things differently" aspect was hard for me, too. I'm not a huge Jo fan. Thanks for chiming in on this one!

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  8. Great and thoughtful review. I'm intrigued to read the book now. I was always a Jo fan.

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  9. I like Jo too, but was happy with her story in the original. Especially since, if she's the one who gets to go to Europe, poor Beth has to die without her....

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  10. Pine cone dolls for the poor. I love it. And I think both May and Jo got the right husbands. My girls, however, were appalled that Professor Baer was so much older than Jo. Older husbands are NOT in style these days.

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  11. This book sounds interesting. I love Little Women. I always did want Jo and Laurie to get together - but in the end - I agree with you. Laurie and Amy are better suited. I will have to keep my eye out for this one.

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  12. Oh, dear.
    I went from loving LW to hate, hate, hating it and I don't know if I could reread it even now, in any form, much less a timeslip form with some person just showing up for no particular reason.

    And I like older husbands just fine, but I never liked Professor Baer; I think he was described so poorly we were never given a chance to like him... we were supposed to admire his fine, fine mind, as high-minded girls are wont to do. Pffftb.

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  13. I don't completely disagree about Amy and Laurie being right for each other but why did Jo have to end up with someone so unattractive? That is probably what really grates on readers, despite my mother telling me that in LMA's eyes a German intellectual was very appealing. I never fell for that nonsense.

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    Replies
    1. How can one like Professor Baer? Alcott could have been kinder to us, and made him just a smidge sexier....It wouldn't have been hard.

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