I have been a Louisa May Alcott fan since I was a girl. I loved reading Little Women and most of Alcott’s other novels. I also loved all of the different movie versions of Little Women. I wanted to be part of the Alcott family believing they were the March family . . . until I started reading biographies of Alcott and discovered that while there were similarities, there were also many differences in which the Alcott family struggled through very difficult circumstances. I was very intrigued by this new novel about the youngest Alcott sister, May, the basis for Amy in Little Women.
Being the basis of Amy for Little Women effects May in many ways. Her sister Louisa and she have a difficult relationship, especially as Louisa’s writting pays for the family to live while May’s artistic renderings in Little Women receive scathing reviews. May wants to leave the shadow of being Amy behind and find out who she is as an artist. First traveling to Europe with Louisa and then by herself, May pushes herself to accomplish her goals and to find out what makes her happy personally.
I loved May’s travels and learning about the process of becoming an artist. I thought it was very interesting when she met fellow women artists who were trying to make it in a male dominated field such as Mary Cassatt and the work they did to create their art and move forward.
I enjoyed the pictures at the end of the book that showed the illustrations that May had created for Little Women. I liked them and am unsure why they were panned. I looked up her paintings online after I finished the book and they are quite beautiful. There is definite growth between her early illustrations and her later paintings after she received further European instruction and traveled the world.
Most of all I loved May’s growth as a woman. Although she was an adult all through this novel, I thought it was a wonderful coming of age novel as May works to be independent, to be a true artist, and to find her happiness. It was very interesting for her to do this during the Victorian times, which frowned upon independent women.
I’ll admit I was a bit sad by Louisa’s talk in the novel of not being happy about her success being from Little Women and her children’s novels. I know they weren’t her first choice of material, but they are so much better than her other fiction such as “The Inheritance.” I have always loved Little Women and An Old Fashioned Girl. She comes off as a bit cranky in this novel.
“I’ve seen you digging back into your dog-eared diaries and rewriting old accounts of our lives into rosier, more harmonious versions of the truth.” – May writing about Louisa
“You two are so similar, both so hungry for something more, but at the same time, you couldn’t be more different.” Oldest sister Anna on Louisa and May
“And the sooner you abandon the idea that life is fair, you will be more productive. This world doesn’t owe us a thing.” – Louisa to May
I enjoyed the extras in the back of this book, especially “A Conversation with Elise Hooper” on the research and background she used to create this novel. It was very interesting. I love that she grew up not far from Orchard House. It’s one of my life goals to visit there one day.
Overall, The Other Alcott is a wonderful tale of an important woman in her own right, artist May Alcott and her struggle for independence and an identity separate from Amy March.
Book Source: Review Copy from William Morrow. Thank-you!