Louisa felt quite proud of her ability to rise above the frivolous material trappings of feminine existence. She did not have dresses with lace bodices or bonnets decorated with velvet ribbon; she did not own jewels or cashmere shawls. But Louisa knew she had something far more luxurious in reach: a thick stack of paper and ink in the well. In the quiet of the evening she could hold the blotched sheets in her hands and marvel that she had once again captured and set down in words the thoughts and images that careened through her mind. There was something deliciously permanent about those sentences on the pages. The world could take an awful lot from her, but it couldn’t take those words. from The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, by Kelly O’Connor McNees.
Among my childhood friends, I was the only one who was completely enamored of Little Women. My first copy – a Golden Book version with cardboard covers, olive green trim, and a portrait like painting of the girls on the front – came to me in fourth grade, on a shopping trip with my grandparents. I re-read that book time and again until I became a teenager and moved on to what I considered more “adult” classics like the novels of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.
None of my friends ever “got” my fascination with the March sisters. I always loved books about the relationships among siblings because I didn’t have any. And even more, I loved books about writers – of course I wanted to “be” Jo, even though I wasn’t anything like her personally, I shared her passion for the “delicious permanence” of the written word.
Kelly O’Connor McNees has taken her passion for all things Alcott, combined it with her love of the written word, and created a truly superb novel about one pivotal summer in the life of Louisa May Alcott. I started reading it last night as a cold, icy rain pounded against the roof. Instantly, I was warmed by her prose, her perspective, and the portrait she was creating.
If you haven’t heard about this book, I think you will.
If you loved Little Women, you need to read it.