Belittled Women by Amanda Sellet. Clarion Books, HarperCollins, 2022. 9780358567356
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? A promising premise: In New Concord, Kansas, a divorced mom and Louisa May Alcott fanatic moves into a farmhouse she has inherited from her aunt and sets up shop as a tourist attraction, re-enacting scenes from the famous novel. But as her three daughters grow into teens, the situation gets rocky. Meg is a spacey and shallow mean girl, Amy is a melodramatic monster, and our heroine Jo just wants to get a cross country scholarship so she can move as far away as possible. The plot gets set in motion when a magazine writer and her son arrive for a feature length article on the show and Jo is torn between her attraction to the shallow but cute visiting Hudson and David, the hunky, smart, kind boy next door, who just happens to be Meg’s ex. There’s a lot of banter and funny set pieces involving the re-enacted production (let’s just say that historical accuracy is not valued). I’m a Little Women fan and enjoyed the madcap antics, which definitely had me laughing out loud in some of the crazier parts. All the main characters present as White, with the exception of best friend Laurie, who identifies as queer and BIPOC, and gets paid a pittance to join the cast. Beth is also a hired hand, replaced each year, to more uproarious effect.
Anything you didn’t like about it? The characters felt flat and underdeveloped. Even Jo, the heart of any version of LW, lacked depth. Although the book is an homage, not a retelling, the absence of any sisterly affection between the characters seriously undermined my investment in the story. Sellet’s characters constantly mangle the revolutionary brilliance of Alcott’s novel. Her point wasn’t that girls could only be happy if they became little women and pursued conventional lives; it’s that little women are made, not born. Even ladylike “Book Meg” (as Sellet distinguishes her characters from the originals) must modify her behavior in order to become Mrs. Brooks.
To whom would you recommend this book? LW fans may enjoy this update, but the uninitiated will have a hard time making sense of it. Read alikes (that I liked much better) would include I, Claudia (2019) by Mary Mccoy, Re: Jane (2016) by Patricia Park, or My Imaginary Mary (2022) by the Lady Janies.
Who should buy this book? Public libraries where interest in reimagined classics is high.
Where would you shelve it? YA fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: January 22, 2023