Gabrielle Donnelly The Little Women Letters

Gabrielle Donnelly The Little Women Letters

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Review of The Little Women Letters: Little Women was one of my favorite books growing up and when I received my copy of The Little Women Letters it sent me rifling through old books and papers in search of my much loved and much worn out copy for a good re-read. My Mom gave me Little Women out of her personal collection when I was quite young and it is one of those emotional connections that we share as we are both only children and that makes this read about sisterly relations even more poignant. Thus having the chance to read about a new generation of Little Women in The Little Women Letters is all the more heartening and exciting. I would definitely recommend them as companion books if you have never read the original!...The original March sisters: Jo the feisty one, Meg the lady, Beth the sweet and quiet one and Amy the saucy social one are forever engraved in literary history by Louisa May Alcott. Here, Gabrielle Donnelly gives us three supposedly descendant Atwater sisters in Emma, LuLu and Sophie who are as different and modern as the original March sisters were for their era. Their March descendant mother Fee (nickname for Josephine) is a Bostonian born American who follows her heart and husband David to Great Britain after their courtship and subsequent marriage. She brings with her a treasure trove of papers and letters from her family and they end up in the musty attic of their family home. This is where Lulu, the middle daughter enters. She is intellectual, eccentric and acerbic much like Jo March...while Emma is more stately and refined like Meg and Sophie is a true actress of many qualities from spitfire to (not often) sanguine. Lulu becomes the perfect vehicle to tell this story because though she will not let her parents force her back into University life, she will help her Mother search for a relative's cookbook in the dusty attic. This search is requested by Aunt Amy, an American born relative who much in the tradition of Aunt March in the original novel is a dominating and seriously overbearing elder character. In her search for the cookbook, Lulu finds a packet of letters written between the original sisters with Jo as the impetus for many of the letters...even a few to her now passed on sister Beth. Lulu, being an equally free spirit becomes intrigued with Jo and in essence forges a bond with her Great Great Grandmother and begins a secret obsession with these letters. Every time she has a free or discouraging moment, one can find her up in the attic under the guise of finding the missing cookbook. Meanwhile, life moves on around her as her sister Emma prepares for her wedding, sister Sophie starts to garner acting jobs and her Father almost makes a fatal misstep in his own marital relationship. But as she reads, Lulu begins to experience some profound thinking on her own life as she finds herself not settling for the wrong beau, not staying in a dead end job and finally exposing the beauty she hides behind an outrageous head of curly hair...Donnelly weaves this story in a subtle manner as everyday dreams are tempered with stories of the past that compliment so very well. All of the sisters share bonds and ties to the past, but are if anything highly modernized versions of their predecessors. Thus similarities are not necessarily as obvious to the non Little Women lover, but also are not necessary to make this book enjoyable. I like this because though Little Women and The Little Women Letters compliment each other so very well, yet this novel stands on its own. I think what rings best is the theme of sisterhood...that sisters will fight...that they will tease and taunt one another...but ultimately they will stand up for each other in good times, bad times, and most of all during unfortunate emergencies. I am not sure if Ms. Donnelly sees this as a series of books, but I could see it as such because I do not know if we have even scratched the surface of the Atwater sisters versus the better known March sisters. This is the first one of two small issues I have with the novel in terms of character development. The other is that I found Jo's last and 'suddenly' found letter to her Great Great Granddaughter too much of a tying up device when I would rather have ended with Lulu preparing to show her sisters the letters and thus leaving their reactions to the reader's imagination, or at best, open to the aforementioned sequel. Regardless, I loved this book and am hoping that my Book Club will do a joint reading of both stories because the pleasure derived from the original source and it's fine new relative is endlessly joyful!