June 7, 2011

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

The Little Women Letters is an absolutely delightful modern spin-off of the original Little Women stories, with Jo's great-great-granddaughter finding the letters she wrote to her sisters before her marriage. Reading this made me happy

I love Little Women. My parents went to see the Winona Ryder/Christian Bale version when I was nine and my mom came home and said as soon as I'd read the book, she'd take me to see it. A week or two later, I was a fan for life.

I have read and reread the three books in the March family series and I love them all.

Three days before we moved away from Massachusetts, my mom and I, with two week old Ella in tow, visited Orchard House in Concord.

So, it's not hard to sell me on a Little Women book. And this one was such a delightfully fun one.

The story takes place in London in the present day, following three sisters.

Emma is the oldest, planning a wedding to her sweet and quiet fiance, Matthew. Sophie is the youngest, pursuing (not particularly successfully) an acting career. And Lulu is in the middle, a brilliant student, but uninterested in pursuing an academic career and frankly, not at all sure what she wants to do with her life at all. The constant pestering from her family and friends isn't helping matters either.

Then, in the attic of her parents' home, she discovers a stash of old letters from her great-great-grandmother, Jo March (yes, this book works under the assumption that Jo was a real person, rather than a fictionalized version of Louisa May Alcott).

And in these letters, Lulu finds some comfort that her prickly nature and decidedly different personality than her sisters might not be such a bad thing after all. Perhaps she's come by it naturally.

This book does a phenomenal job balancing the letters from the past with the life of the girls in the present. I didn't feel like it relied too heavily on either one. If you're a Little Women fan, you'll enjoy the letters and probably want to reread the books as it reminds you of many of the fantastic bits. If you've never read the original books, I think you won't be lost or feel like you're missing anything.

The sisters are all very different (like the sisters in Little Women) but without making any of them the villain. They all have their own strengths and faults. They bicker, but they love each other.

And the mother in this book is as different as you can imagine someone being from Marmee, and yet she is so loving and wonderful all the same. When Emma buys an enormously expensive pair of shoes for her wedding and then admits to her mother how guilty she feels about the cost, her mother's reaction almost moved me to tears (it also convinced me to send this book to my mom).

The dialogue is really what makes the book fantastic - it's sparkling and funny and sweet and honest. And, like Little Women, it has a fairly enormous cast of characters, nearly all of which are well-developed.

And. . . one more similarity to the source material: the book does have an overarching narrative, but it's loose with the bulk of the book made up of small stories in the lives of the characters. It's not about racing to the end of the book to find out what happens, rather it's about losing yourself in the story.

I can't remember the last time I read a book that I got so much pure enjoyment from. I just loved this book.

Advance Copy picked up at Book Bloggers Convention


  1. hi, first time visitor here, introducing myself so i'm not a creepy stalker. thanks for the book review... i love book reviews... but wouldn't you know i've never even-wait for it- read LITTLE WOMEN!?! i know.



  2. Wow - I can't wait to read this! And I just placed a request for it at my library. So soon I will have it!

  3. Oh it sounds SO good! And as I had my own super surprising and sweet moment with my mom about expensive wedding shoes, that little detail pretty much sold me on reading this.

    But I suppose I should first dig up my old copy of LW and reread it!

  4. I love the Orchard House! Such a fascinating family.

  5. Um, sold. Done.

    I read Little Women before the Winona movie came out as well, I remember my uncle sneaking his daughters and my sisters into a packed theater, we bought tickets to another movie and sat on the floor in the front of the Little Women theater because we wanted to see it so much. (This idea is giving me dry heaves...the FLOOR!? Of a MOVIE THEATER?!?! Sick.)


  6. I LOVE Little Women but have never read any of the follow ups. Quite strange considering my penchant for series and epilogues. But you better believe I'm putting this one on hold at the library right now.

    North Meets South

  7. Yes, sold me, too. I hope they are karmically paying you for all the books you sold today!

  8. Thanks for posting about this book, Janssen! I have never been able to make it all the way through Little Women, but I just put this book on hold at the library, so maybe it'll inspire me. ;) I think it's one my mom & grandma would really like, too.

  9. I haven't read Little Women in AGES, so I will have to again and then read this! It soumds marvelous!

  10. Sounds like a great book, Janssen. I was a real Little Women fan when I was in third grade and kept walking to our public library to find the next book. I was always very envious of my cousin who owned the set of Little Women dolls by Madame Alexander. We took pictures of Orchard House when we went to Concord for photos for my Massachusetts Field Trip but never went inside. That is something we really should make a point of doing.

  11. I liked this book, too, and reviewed it on my blog today. I love how natural it is to share our memories of Little Women while talking about this book.

  12. Thanks for the great review! It brings back memories of reading Little Women a long long time ago. I should re-read it and follow up with this one.

  13. Ooh! Definitely on my list to read now! Thanks!

  14. Glad to hear you liked it. I picked this one up too.

  15. First to read our library's copy. :) I also think the cover is just beautiful.

  16. You might want to pick up Geraldine Brook's March, a book about Mr. March's Civil War experiences, written from his viewpoint. I got it for my birthday and enjoyed it a lot, even if it at times only felt tangentially connected to the women back home whose story drew me in initially. But if your library has it, go check it out.


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