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Apr 14, 2010

Book Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (April 1, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0399156526
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:five Big stars!

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.

Like so many other young readers, Louisa May Alcott was one of the first authors that I really connected with. For years after my first reading experience with Little Women, I counted Louisa May Alcott as my favorite author. I wrote countless book reports on her and beginning at age ten I read all of her major works from Little Women to Eight Cousins to Jack and Jill until I was about sixteen.

Within all of these works, there always seemed to be a slip of Louisa shining through, but I never really knew the author behind those words despite what facts I tried to glean from biographical sources. Those who enjoyed Little Women will enjoy this story of Louisa and her humble family as well, though this is told with more of the modern fashion of today and with a bit more of a depressive pall over the general story. The situation is very similar though, with the sisters' relationships and the era, which is depicted well in this new novel.

The poverty that Louisa's family faced was different then one would off-handedly assume. When one is thought of as being poor, we tend to think that the provider in the family is naturally doing everything in his power to achieve a better way of life for the family, yet perhaps circumstances have not been kind to them. That was not the case with the Alcotts. Louisa's father, Bronson, was a Transcendentalist, and did not believe in obtaining money for his speeches that he gave, and was against commercial gains. His family gave what they should have kept for themselves, as they were humble enough to realize that giving was better than receiving, even if they themselves did not have enough candles for the night or enough bread for the day.

From what I recall reading Louisa's writings many moons ago, her spirited wit and happiness within family and hope seemed to emanate throughout, even when there was destitution or poverty. Beginning to read McNees' telling, this story is at the point where Louisa and her sister Anna were in their early twenties living at home with the greatest hope of escaping. The vibrancy of childish hope is no longer at the forefront, s these girls are mature enough to realize the struggles that adulthood provides. This summer that the author writes of in this novel illustrated the inner struggles that the elder girls faced, as they were torn between their family loyalties and their wishes for a better life for themselves. Anna had hopes for a marriage and children, while Louisa aches for independence so that she can write her stories. Once Louisa meets Joseph Singer, Louisa is faced with the struggle between the romantic bliss of a new love which eludes to a promise of family, versus that very same independence that Louisa has worked towards for years and counted on as her way of life.

This story was extremely eloquent and reminiscent of Alcott's writing as I felt whisked away to her time period, and I was utterly bereft when the novel was over. It had me from the front cover. The novel focused on one aspect of Louisa's life that was entirely fictitious, but was still well worth my time. The fictitious aspect concerned a love affair with a gentle young man, who was ready to run away with Louisa and make a new life for the both of them. I fervently hoped that she would accept his love and run away with him so that she would be privy to the solace of a family of her own. But could Louisa have been satisfied with such a momentous decision?

I felt so close to Louisa through this author's re-imaginings and I wish the novel started out when Louisa was small and ended with Louisa's death. I still would have savored a thousand page book if told in the same fashion that this novel was told in. I highly recommend The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott to all fans of Louisa May Alcott and those who are interested late 1800's New England culture. The details of the way of life and the settings were wonderfully inserted and made for a piece of work that the private Louisa May Alcott would have been proud of. I even enjoyed the cover of the book, it was very well done and the chapters beginning with quotes and time periods were helpful for setting the stage. The chapters that began with a quote from Louisa's works made me realize I really need to go back and re-read her work. The one complaint is that it was entirely too short, but since it was a tale focused on summer love I understand the need for brevity. It felt like a minor blip in regards to the true scope of Louisa's life, and I still feel the need for more on Louisa for which I will read some other works such as Eden's Outcasts by John Matteson and March by Geraldine Brooks. Since it was so focused on a love story, I would also recommend this to chick-lit fans and is even appropriate for the Young Adult genre since it was such an easy read.

This was a fabulous debut novel for Kelly O'Connor McNees which makes me wonder what is next from her pen as I will be eager to read more from her. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is a fantastic addition to my Louisa May Alcott library that totally exceeded my expectations. This is going on my Top Ten Faves of 2010 list.

Note to publicist: My apologies for not getting this review up sooner, I was working around the HF Bloggers Round Table events and the backlog of other reviews, but the good news is that my readers do not have to wait to get their hands on this fabulous book, it is available now!

Compare prices with various booksellers here or purchase from my amazon store here: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.