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Jun 14, 2011

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Touchstone (June 7, 2011)
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 3.5 stars

When Josephine March's great-great-granddaughter stumbles across her letters, the Little Women shed a glorious light on a new generation of sisters. The Atwaters are a loving, sprawling mess of a family and Fee's three daughters, Emma, Lulu and Sophie, couldn't be less alike if they tried. Emma is planning her wedding, Sophie is an up-and-coming actress, but Lulu - the cleverest of them all - is more than a little lost. If life is for living, why is she stuck in a series of dead-end jobs? Grandma Jo's letters had been gathering dust in the attic for decades, but when Lulu gets her hands on them, everything seems to change and different worlds begin to open up. And even though dark family secrets emerge, Jo's words offer comfort and guidance across the centuries. Sometimes family is all that matters. And sisters are the closest friends you can find.

Little Women and its sequels were a huge part of my growing years, and I was very interested in revisiting the charming March family with Donnelly's The Little Women Letters. Three sisters in a contemporary setting who evoke the nostalgia of the original Little Women, and these sisters actually descend from those characters. This time around, it's Lulu who is struggling with discovering her purpose in life, as her other sisters seem to know which direction they are heading in. Emma, the eldest, is getting married (and acts just like Meg March), and Sophie, the youngest, is going to be a famous actress (and acts just like Amy March).

Lulu discovers letters written by ancestor Jo, and feels a kinship that she hadn't felt before. As a middle child, Lulu has always felt out of place although she was clearly beloved. She finds herself admiring Jo through the letters she discovers, and we readers are privy to these letters as well. A small bit of the double storyline is apparent as we get Jo's point of view of her life as an apparent spinster before she finally marries, and Lulu relates to this as she is still single and pretty much floundering for direction in her life.

The present-day characters range from friends, family and boyfriends with interesting events and conversations, but I was so much more in tune to the classic storyline with Jo and wished the present day characters evoked more passion. Lulu kept the letters to herself, and I kept waiting for the climatic moment that Lulu would sit around the fire and share with her sisters all the mementos she came across. That moment was muted to say the least. The author did attempt cohesion with the parallels between past and present, such as buying shoes Emma couldn't afford and suffering the consequences (and learning from them), but the conclusion to this plot line didn't quite work either.

The Little Women Letters offers a lot of potential, and a bit of nostalgia, but if it weren't for the actual letters that we got to read, the rest of the book could be a hindrance to those readers who are typically character driven with their novels. The contemporary characters were all a just bit too perfect, or too predictable, and everyone seemingly was just forced into their role and there was little development. I wish there were a way the sisters could have come full circle in a way, but it just wasn't there.

If you a die hard Little Women fan though, this is a perfectly light read for those that wish to be taken back to that whimsical time of long ago that Louisa May Alcott created for her readers. The spirit of Jo was indeed portrayed in the letters that were shared, which were my favorite parts of the novel.