Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees

Louisa May Alcott is one of my favorite authors. As a girl and young adult, I loved reading her novels, and particularly loved Little Women and An Old Fashioned Girl. I also loved to watch all movie versions of Little Women and to read any biography of Louisa May Alcott that I could find. I found her life to be fascinating, particularly with her being a strong independent woman for her time. I also loved how she was the real-life “Jo” and her unconventional upbringing by transcendental thinker Bronson Alcott. Neighbors such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson only enhanced the magic of Louisa May Alcott’s life.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott brings Louisa’s world to life. Having a great transcendental thinker for a father does not make life a bed of roses, but rather a hard scrabble existence in which one has to work hard to find enough food to survive. While Bronson has great ideas, he has not had a regular job in the past sixteen years. His wife and Louisa’s mother, Abigail May (Marmee) works hard with her four daughters to keep the house in shape and to find food and clothing for the family. Marmee’s brother-in-law offers the family the use of a house he owns in Wadpole, New Hampshire.

Louisa finds herself at twenty-two moving from beloved Concord to Wadpole, when she would much rather be moving to Boston to work toward her goal of becoming a writer. The family soon becomes immersed in life in Wadpole and puts on a theatrical production. Louisa also meets Joseph Singer, the son of a local dry goods store owner. Louisa and Joseph spar at first, but find themselves attracted to each other almost against their wills. Will Louisa pursue her dreams or will she follow the path of true love?

While fans of Louisa May Alcott will already know the answer to this question, it doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of the journey in this novel. In The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O’Connor McNees perfectly captures the world of the Alcotts and of the small town of Wadpole. I could vividly imagine myself walking down the street of Wadpole and entering the small stores.

I enjoyed the setting, but my favorite parts of the novel were the hard issues that she was faced with at this point in life. Should she pursue the path that most women her age followed, a path toward marriage, or should she put that and her feelings aside to pursue an unlikely career as a writer? Louisa had an example of marriage in her own home and didn’t like what she saw. While her mother worked herself to the bone, her father spent his time in intellectual pursuits. In order to have a family and keep it going, a woman of that time did not have time to pursue an outside career of her own. My favorite line in this novel is from Marmee, “For a man, love is just a season. For a woman it is the whole of the year – winter, spring, summer, and fall – and yet, sometimes it is not what it could be. What it seems it should be.”

The romance between Louisa May Alcott and Joseph Singer fairly crackles with spark and intensity. Their early interactions remind me of one my favorite literary romantic couples – Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I loved the romance and the conflict it caused with Louisa May Alcott and her aspirations.

Overall, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is a great novel about one summer that could have changed Louisa’s life forever. I enjoyed the historical fiction, the romance, and the personal conflict and growth in Louisa’s character. This is a great book for all lovers of Little Woman, Louisa May Alcott, or just a good read in general.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is my tenth novel for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011. I’m halfway to my goal of twenty historical fiction novels read this year!

Book Source: Penguin Group. Thank-you!


  1. Great review, I have this book on my TBR list. Little Women is one of my favorite books of all time and I am anxious to read about its author.

  2. This has been on my wish list for awhile. Love your review. I really need to find a copy!
    2 Kids and Tired Books

  3. Laura, wonderful review. I read this last summer, and truly enjoyed it. Congratulations on reaching the halfway point of your reading challenge goal!

  4. Great review. Thanks, Laura. I've just added this book to my wishing list. Like you, I loved reading L. May Alcott's books as a child so I'm really curious about this biofic.