Louisa May Alcott is one of the most beloved literary figures in American history. Her book Little Women, has never been out of circulation, and it’s been adapted for the screen and stage many times. As Little Women is widely known to be somewhat autobiographical, it’s easy for readers to feel they know Louisa May as well as they know Jo, her fictional counterpart.
I would expect this familiarity would make writing a novel about Louisa and her real family daunting, especially for first-time novelists. But I’m glad that author Kelly O’Connor McNees took up that challenge when creating The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. The book is full of enough facts about Louisa’s real life to make her situation come alive for readers, but those facts are woven into the story well enough that they remain interesting instead of becoming a boring list forced into a story line.
We see Louisa as a real women influenced by her own upbringing to reject romance and marriage for herself. We see the struggles she faced when deciding between accepting the reality of love freely offered to her and pursuing her dream of being a writer. Married women in Louisa’s time were mostly relegated to a life of drudgery and endless chores. Few had the option of pursuing anything other than domestic pursuits. Even those who by necessity worked, usually earned their money through sewing or teaching or cleaning.
Louisa’s father plays a prominent role in the book, as he did in her life. His unwillingness to earn money affected the whole household, making the family dependent upon friends and relatives for their support. It’s no wonder that Louisa developed a fierce drive to make money from her writing so she would not be forced into the same situation during her adult life.
Since we all know the real Louisa May Alcott never married, it’s no surprise how her romance in this book will end. But McNees weaves her words so well that you want to keep turning pages anyway, hoping against hope that the outcome will be different than you know it to be. The resolution, when it comes, feels true to Louisa, and satisfying to the reader as well.
Mother-daughter book club members who read The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott will have a lot to discuss including the writer herself, constraints on women of her time and family relationships. Also interesting to discuss will be how men of the times were just as constrained in many ways by the expectations of society. Clubs may also want to consider watching Louisa May Alcott, The Woman Behind Little Women. It’s an excellent documentary created for PBS from the book written by Harriet Reisen. See the website http://www.alcottfilm.com/ for more details about the biography. See McNees’s website for more info about The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott: http://kellyoconnormcnees.com/
I highly recommend any of these titles for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 15 and up.