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March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women

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On its 150th anniversary, four acclaimed authors offer personal reflections on their lifelong engagement with Louisa May Alcott's classic novel of girlhood and growing up. For the 150th anniversary of the publication of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Kate Bolick, Jenny Zhang, Carmen Maria Machado, and Jane Smiley explore their strong lifelong personal engagement with Alc On its 150th anniversary, four acclaimed authors offer personal reflections on their lifelong engagement with Louisa May Alcott's classic novel of girlhood and growing up. For the 150th anniversary of the publication of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Kate Bolick, Jenny Zhang, Carmen Maria Machado, and Jane Smiley explore their strong lifelong personal engagement with Alcott's novel--what it has meant to them and why it still matters. Each takes as her subject one of the four March sisters, reflecting on their stories and what they have to teach us about life. Kate Bolick finds parallels in oldest sister Meg's brush with glamour at the Moffats' ball and her own complicated relationship with clothes. Jenny Zhang confesses to liking Jo least among the sisters when she first read the novel as a girl, uncomfortable in finding so much of herself in a character she feared was too unfeminine. Carmen Maria Machado writes about the real-life tragedy of Lizzie Alcott, the inspiration for third sister Beth, and the horror story that can result from not being the author of your own life's narrative. And Jane Smiley rehabilitates the reputation of youngest sister Amy, whom she sees as a modern feminist role model for those of us who are, well, not like the fiery Jo. These four voices come together to form a deep, funny, far-ranging meditation on the power of great literature to shape our lives.


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On its 150th anniversary, four acclaimed authors offer personal reflections on their lifelong engagement with Louisa May Alcott's classic novel of girlhood and growing up. For the 150th anniversary of the publication of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Kate Bolick, Jenny Zhang, Carmen Maria Machado, and Jane Smiley explore their strong lifelong personal engagement with Alc On its 150th anniversary, four acclaimed authors offer personal reflections on their lifelong engagement with Louisa May Alcott's classic novel of girlhood and growing up. For the 150th anniversary of the publication of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Kate Bolick, Jenny Zhang, Carmen Maria Machado, and Jane Smiley explore their strong lifelong personal engagement with Alcott's novel--what it has meant to them and why it still matters. Each takes as her subject one of the four March sisters, reflecting on their stories and what they have to teach us about life. Kate Bolick finds parallels in oldest sister Meg's brush with glamour at the Moffats' ball and her own complicated relationship with clothes. Jenny Zhang confesses to liking Jo least among the sisters when she first read the novel as a girl, uncomfortable in finding so much of herself in a character she feared was too unfeminine. Carmen Maria Machado writes about the real-life tragedy of Lizzie Alcott, the inspiration for third sister Beth, and the horror story that can result from not being the author of your own life's narrative. And Jane Smiley rehabilitates the reputation of youngest sister Amy, whom she sees as a modern feminist role model for those of us who are, well, not like the fiery Jo. These four voices come together to form a deep, funny, far-ranging meditation on the power of great literature to shape our lives.

30 review for March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women

  1. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    3.5 stars The first three essays are highly personal; the last is not. All four illustrate the enduring, ongoing relevance of Little Women and its characters. In her essay on Meg, Kate Bolick writes of her own relatable relationship to clothes, what Virginia Woolf called “frock consciousness.” Intriguingly, Bolick posits that if Woolf had read Alcott (Bolick’s research shows Woolf didn’t), Woolf would’ve been able to expand on this consciousness she writes of in her journals and we’d be further al 3.5 stars The first three essays are highly personal; the last is not. All four illustrate the enduring, ongoing relevance of Little Women and its characters. In her essay on Meg, Kate Bolick writes of her own relatable relationship to clothes, what Virginia Woolf called “frock consciousness.” Intriguingly, Bolick posits that if Woolf had read Alcott (Bolick’s research shows Woolf didn’t), Woolf would’ve been able to expand on this consciousness she writes of in her journals and we’d be further along in understanding the topic than we are now. In Bolick’s mentions of her own “spinsterhood” (and her book on the topic), you get the feeling she might’ve liked to have written about Jo. In her essay on Jo, Jenny Zhang writes of almost feeling insulted, certainly feeling pigeonholed, in that she’d been asked to write about Jo. Since childhood, she’s resisted the idea that she is so much like Jo, fearing Jo isn’t feminine enough. But through Jo she has grown to understand why her parents desperately wanted her to conform to their ideals of womanhood. In her essay on Beth, Carmen Maria Machado writes of her own childhood illness and her adolescent, obsessive reading of “sick-lit.” In contrast to the flat character of Beth, she gives us the darker details of the real-life Lizzie’s illness and death. I enjoyed the bits of Lizzie’s letters that were transcribed by Susan Bailey, who’s working on a biography of Lizzie Alcott. Machado, too, could’ve written about Jo; in addition, she slips in her strong feeling about (against) Amy. The first three essay-writers are all under fifty years of age and childless, as far as I know. And then we get to Jane Smiley. Seventy years old, mother of several children, she comes across as schoolmarmish. Her essay is so different from the others, it seems as if it doesn’t belong. Though she peppers it with phrases like “if I were Marmee” and “if she were my daughter,” she gives only a few vague examples from her own childrearing. Yet hers is the only essay that gave me new insight into any of the characters, though granted that’s not necessarily the reason for the book. In writing about Amy, she touches on the psychology of a youngest child and delves into examples from the text to provide insight into Amy’s developing and complex character. In her youth, Smiley related to Jo.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    This would have been a 3 or 3.5 stars except for that last essay. The first three essays were absolutely delightful, the authors analyzed and spoke from their experience but also interwove their ongoing relationship with Little Women in a way that was both talented and interesting. First is Meg, second Jo, third Beth; each of these essays has a unique voice and expresses the author’s unique relationship with Alcott’s masterwork from first childhood read to adult re-reads. The last essay, however This would have been a 3 or 3.5 stars except for that last essay. The first three essays were absolutely delightful, the authors analyzed and spoke from their experience but also interwove their ongoing relationship with Little Women in a way that was both talented and interesting. First is Meg, second Jo, third Beth; each of these essays has a unique voice and expresses the author’s unique relationship with Alcott’s masterwork from first childhood read to adult re-reads. The last essay, however, did not live up to its counterparts. It had an interesting thesis, that Jo and Amy as character foils also embody two different types of feminists, which the essay completely neglected to flesh out and actually make a case for. Moreover, the essay did not have the personal or researched support of the other three, resulting in many sentences of “if I had been Amy’s mother...”. Well pardon me if I don’t give a shit! You weren’t, and neither did you live in transcendentalist Massachussetts. The relationship of the author to Little Women is not fleshed out enough to make these sentiments valid, and after reading the other three essays which contained actual research, the third essay is a miserable failure.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    Four self-described fans...talk in this book about their personal connection to the novel and what it has meant to them (as children, adults, or both). More particularly, each of the writers takes in turn one of the March sisters as her subject. ~ Preface Kate Bolick's perspective as author of Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own seems singularly suited to explore Jo's, and by implication real-life spinster Louisa May Alcott's, struggle against marriage. Instead, assigned to write about happily-m Four self-described fans...talk in this book about their personal connection to the novel and what it has meant to them (as children, adults, or both). More particularly, each of the writers takes in turn one of the March sisters as her subject. ~ Preface Kate Bolick's perspective as author of Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own seems singularly suited to explore Jo's, and by implication real-life spinster Louisa May Alcott's, struggle against marriage. Instead, assigned to write about happily-married Meg, she analyzes Meg borrowing a dress for the Moffat's party through the lens of Virginia Woolf's concept of "frock consciousness". 12 year old Jenny Zhang "decided by the end of the first page that there was no one I detested more than Jo March", for "her utter lack of giving a fuck when it came to adhering to gender norms" and everything else about her. But as an adult, she finds Jo/Mrs. Bhaer's renunciation of her childhood dreams as "selfish, lonely, and cold" to be disturbing and uttered as if offered "under hypnosis". Carmen Maria Machado's comparison of her own sickly childhood to Beth's might have been unsatisfyingly one-dimensional, if understandably so, given the shorter arc of the character's life. But it is enlivened by Machado's contrast of Beth's personality with that of her real life counterpart in the Alcott family, Lizzie, who did not go gentle into that good night. As a child, Jane Smiley most identified with Jo, but as an adult and a mother, she's come to appreciate Amy the most, and she makes a persuasive case that "Amy is the modern woman, the thoughtful feminist; the sister who stays true to herself, learns to navigate her social world, gains a wisdom and self-knowledge different from that of her sisters, and is more like what we aim to be today." Thought-provoking and recommended for anyone who's read Little Women.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Largely good, but also a mixed bag; it’s unfortunate that the collection ends with Jane Smiley’s unconvincing, pedantic defense of Amy as a feminist icon and a misunderstood character of grace and growth. Carmen Maria Machado’s essay on Beth, on the other hand, is revelatory and has some exquisite and haunting imagery.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    I actually enjoyed the essays on Meg and Amy the most, which I didn’t expect. They felt the most reflective of the characters. I thought of Meg a little differently afterwards, and the Amy essay seemed like a very well planned out analysis. The Jo and Beth essays felt more like the authors telling their own stories and trying force a connection to the characters. I didn’t feel like anything made me think differently or more deeply about Jo and Beth, and I had high hopes for the Jo essay. Disclai I actually enjoyed the essays on Meg and Amy the most, which I didn’t expect. They felt the most reflective of the characters. I thought of Meg a little differently afterwards, and the Amy essay seemed like a very well planned out analysis. The Jo and Beth essays felt more like the authors telling their own stories and trying force a connection to the characters. I didn’t feel like anything made me think differently or more deeply about Jo and Beth, and I had high hopes for the Jo essay. Disclaimer - I’m a Little Women fan, but not a hardcore fan with sentimental attachment to any characters. A hardcore fan may feel differently. 😊

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rikke

    It's impossible to read Little Women and not look for glimpses of oneself in the sisters. The ever-moving sisters pass by like flighty shadows in a mirror. One second you're Jo, burning with genius and rage, the next you're Amy sighing for bows and balls and the luxurious freedom that only money can buy. It makes the book a deeply personal reading experience unlike anything else. It unites readers across all ages; to meet a fellow Beth or Meg feels like meeting a soulmate. I'd much rather know wh It's impossible to read Little Women and not look for glimpses of oneself in the sisters. The ever-moving sisters pass by like flighty shadows in a mirror. One second you're Jo, burning with genius and rage, the next you're Amy sighing for bows and balls and the luxurious freedom that only money can buy. It makes the book a deeply personal reading experience unlike anything else. It unites readers across all ages; to meet a fellow Beth or Meg feels like meeting a soulmate. I'd much rather know which March sister my friends identify with than which Hogwarts houses. I myself am an Amy. And that's not an easy thing to admit. After all, you're supposed to be Jo; the heroine of the story and not the villain. You're supposed to want Laurie to follow Jo to the end of the world, demanding her love. And yet I've never been and never did. I like the cold reality of Amy; the complexity and the inadequacy of her talent that doesn't burn or rage or shine, but exists quietly like a dream just out of reach. Contrary to Jo's beliefs, Amy doesn't get everything that she wants. But she does achieve happiness. These four essays highlight exactly that; the book's ability to make one identify so strongly with its characters, the need to defend one's choices and favourite characters as though they were part of you. Which is partly true after all. I adored Kate Bolick's take on Meg and the transformative magic her clothes works on her. The beauty of the domestic; Meg's much overlooked longing. I enjoyed Jenny Zhang's take on Jo and the feminine power she undoubtedly brings to the story. I was puzzled by Jane Smiley's analysis of Amy, highlighting her forward-thinking while also trying to put herself in Marmee's place (an odd choice for literary criticism to be sure). But, the true gem in the collection was Carmen Maria Machado's piece on Beth, drawing equally on Machado's own deeply personal experiences and the Alcott family history. Machado argues that Beth is forced into her angelic role by her surroundings; she is good because everybody reduces her to saintliness. When she dies her family members gets to define her; like the Alcott family forever nursed the myth of the deceased Elizabeth. It's raw and interesting and adds a layer to Beth's character that I never gave much thought earlier. I thoroughly enjoyed this essay collection – not only because it reawakens my favourite childhood book, but because reading it felt like chatting with old friends. Such a comforting and interesting read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    I randomly picked this up at the library and checked it out on a whim, and I'm glad I did. It's an interesting and quick read. Carmen Maria Machado's essay on Beth (as well as "sick-lit") is the stand-out with exquisite and haunting imagery. I randomly picked this up at the library and checked it out on a whim, and I'm glad I did. It's an interesting and quick read. Carmen Maria Machado's essay on Beth (as well as "sick-lit") is the stand-out with exquisite and haunting imagery.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    An enjoyable read. I liked the chapter on Amy by Jane Smiley best of all as she wrote about the development of the character rather than about herself. The other three writers tended to write about themselves in relation to their chosen character.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Shan

    Worth reading just for Machado's brilliant essay on the tragedy of Beth, which manages to be poignant, very funny, and enraging all at the same time. Though the primary sources seem to be few and far between, Machado peers into diaries and letters and gives us a glimpse of Lizzie Alcott, the real-life sister upon whom Beth is modeled. Let's just say she's no homespun angel. Zhang's and Bolick's takes on Jo and Meg respectively are solid, but Smiley's Amy essay is a bit uninspired -- she plods me Worth reading just for Machado's brilliant essay on the tragedy of Beth, which manages to be poignant, very funny, and enraging all at the same time. Though the primary sources seem to be few and far between, Machado peers into diaries and letters and gives us a glimpse of Lizzie Alcott, the real-life sister upon whom Beth is modeled. Let's just say she's no homespun angel. Zhang's and Bolick's takes on Jo and Meg respectively are solid, but Smiley's Amy essay is a bit uninspired -- she plods methodically through Amy's highlights, frequently pausing to compare Marmee's parenting choices with what Smiley would have done in a similar situation (asides I found neither charming nor instructive). Amy is one of the book's most interesting, relatable characters, particularly to a modern audience, and she deserves more.

  10. 4 out of 5

    QNPoohBear

    Four contemporary writers reflect on how Little Women shaped their lives and what it means to them. Kate Bolick, initially a Jo, grew to appreciate Meg more upon an adult reread of the book. Like Meg, Kate wanted fine things and to please others. She relates the story of a sleazy man she dated and a party at which he shamed her for dressing up in a fancy, designer gown. She understood the same lesson Meg learned in the chapter "Meg Goes to Vanity Fair." Like Meg, Kate learned to accept her own in Four contemporary writers reflect on how Little Women shaped their lives and what it means to them. Kate Bolick, initially a Jo, grew to appreciate Meg more upon an adult reread of the book. Like Meg, Kate wanted fine things and to please others. She relates the story of a sleazy man she dated and a party at which he shamed her for dressing up in a fancy, designer gown. She understood the same lesson Meg learned in the chapter "Meg Goes to Vanity Fair." Like Meg, Kate learned to accept her own individuality and not someone else's idea of what she should be. At first I really liked Kate and wished she could have been my babysitter. I had fancy, frilly "Laura Ingalls" and "Anne of Green Gables" dresses. I relate very strongly to Jo, and even more to Louisa. I wish I had known Kate and in spite of her being older, I could have taught her to appreciate her own individuality much sooner and to embrace her inner Jo! Jenny Zhangwrites about Jo. Growing up Jenny dreamed of being a writer like Jo, however, Jo was not her favorite character. Jenny's identity is shaped by her Chinese heritage and the cultural identity she left behind in Shanghai as a precocious (Amy) four-year-old. Finally becoming a writer, Jenny Zhnag felt unfulfilled somehow because she is unmarried. She identified with Jo in the third act of Little Women. Again, I feel bad for her because once again, this woman does not have a supportive mother. In this case, it's complicated by cultural beliefs. In "A Dear and Nothing Else," Carmen Maria Machado compares the character of Beth to the real life Lizzie Alcott and talks about her own health battles and teenage obsession with sick lit. (I read all those Lurlene McDaniel books in the 90s too.) The parts about Lizzie are really interesting. She was much more human than Beth who is so angelic and perfectly good all the time. Scholar Nina Auerbach claims Beth HAS to die because she doesn't have ambition or dreams beyond the happy home. She'll always be a child to her family. Carmen writes of her own health battles and how they've made her stronger as an adult, yet her mother defines Carmen by her childhood ailments. I feel this was the strongest essay in the book. I liked learning more about Lizzie (thank you Susan Bailey) and could relate to some of Carmen's own anxieties. Finally, Jane Smiley looks at Amy from a parent's perspective. Instead of seeing Amy as an annoying, selfish, brat, Jane Smiley sees Amy as the quintessential youngest child having to learn by doing and observing to make her way into the world. Whew. Can we say helicopter parent? Jane Smiley does not seem to have any regard for Marmee March's unique way of raising her daughters. This modern mother has interfered in her kids' lives, hovered, and would have raised Amy very differently. She sympathizes with Amy in regards to the pickled limes and would have taken the teacher to task for not dealing with the jealous girl and for punishing Amy. (Dear helicopter parent: Amy broke the rules and every time a kid complains to Mommy about bullying and Mommy complains to the school, it makes bullying SO SO much worse). This modern mother would have intervened in Amy and Jo's fights and focused on AMY after Amy falls through the ice and held off lecturing Jo, hovering to monitor for signs of PTSD. Jane Smiley doesn't see to take into account the unorthodox beliefs of the Alcotts/Marches and how typical 19th-century parenting usually meant beating a child for doing something wrong. Marmee offers wise counsel instead which is why we love her. Jane Smiley goes through Amy's whole character growth to the end of the novel. I can see how she came to form her opinions of Amy but I think she's missing the mark here. Amy is an exaggerated version of Louisa's own sister, the baby of the family, petted spoiled and sometimes made fun of for her art. However, Smiley doesn't consider the fact that Amy can do whatever she wants because of the sacrifices of her older sisters, mainly Jo. Yes Jo is writing trashy stories to support the family so who do you think pays for Amy's art lessons? It was always Louisa who supported May financially. I applaud Jo for NOT being gracious while paying calls. She doesn't like false social interactions and is always true to herself. While I bet this essay will make some people see Amy in a new light, I still don't like her very much. This collection of essays isn't bad but it's not what I'd call literary criticism or literary analysis. The writers had to rerread the novel as adults for the first time to even write the essays in the first place. The younger writers like to make themselves sound modern and edgy with some very modern language.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jill Williams

    3.5/5. Carmen Maria Machado’s essay on Beth was my favorite.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carmen Liffengren

    3.5 Stars March Sisters is a deep dive into the character and nature of each of Little Women's March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Each essay, written by a different author, is like it's own mini-memoir, but written in a manner that reflects each sister. I particularly liked the essay by Jane Smiley about Amy. Youngest sister Amy shows incredible interior growth over the course of Little Women and Smiley highlights her observant nature. Alcott's treatment of Amy's maturity inspires even Laurie 3.5 Stars March Sisters is a deep dive into the character and nature of each of Little Women's March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Each essay, written by a different author, is like it's own mini-memoir, but written in a manner that reflects each sister. I particularly liked the essay by Jane Smiley about Amy. Youngest sister Amy shows incredible interior growth over the course of Little Women and Smiley highlights her observant nature. Alcott's treatment of Amy's maturity inspires even Laurie in a way that Jo could never do. Smiley's essay helped me to see Amy in a completely new light.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Shalra

    big fan of this. i liked the “frock consciousness” and the economic aspect of meg’s essay. i really loved jo’s essay and how it addresses the cost of jo’s genius. her temperament and values sentence her to a certain fate. she (or perhaps louisa) is destined to be lonely, though she chose that loneliness. i also like how much the author ties her own story in with jo’s. beth’s essay had an especially interesting argument about how lizzie, who beth was based off of, was never allowed control of her big fan of this. i liked the “frock consciousness” and the economic aspect of meg’s essay. i really loved jo’s essay and how it addresses the cost of jo’s genius. her temperament and values sentence her to a certain fate. she (or perhaps louisa) is destined to be lonely, though she chose that loneliness. i also like how much the author ties her own story in with jo’s. beth’s essay had an especially interesting argument about how lizzie, who beth was based off of, was never allowed control of her own life, and is now memorialized in little women as someone she’s not. i loved the analysis of amy’s character in the last essay as well, though it had much less personal elements from the writer. i still liked it for that anyway, though i didn’t love how the author continuously inserted what she would have done had she been amy’s mother, because i think that’s sort of besides the point.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Smriti

    The essays on Meg and Beth are wonderfully penned, so personal and enlightening. Carmen Maria Machado's essay on Beth talks in detail about illness, about the way illness is not angelic or mute but a suffering full of anger and rage, and how Beth is not given the chance to voice not only her anger, but her narrative identity in language itself - from the beginning, the character is set up to pass away as an angelic child. The essays on Meg and Beth are wonderfully penned, so personal and enlightening. Carmen Maria Machado's essay on Beth talks in detail about illness, about the way illness is not angelic or mute but a suffering full of anger and rage, and how Beth is not given the chance to voice not only her anger, but her narrative identity in language itself - from the beginning, the character is set up to pass away as an angelic child.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I'm on an Alcott kick right now and picked this up at the library. I didn't get far into it when I realized it wasn't for me. The writing for me seemed mediocre. I just wasn't getting into the type of book this was. It was a really awesome idea, but poorly executed. I'm on an Alcott kick right now and picked this up at the library. I didn't get far into it when I realized it wasn't for me. The writing for me seemed mediocre. I just wasn't getting into the type of book this was. It was a really awesome idea, but poorly executed.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Susan Liston

    Yeah, well this was okay, just like two stars say. The first essay was fine, the second I started to bog down on, the third was full of medical horror stories...lose me quickly with that, and by the fourth I was just beaten down, okay, whatever. These are fictional characters, y'all. (Yes, I know it is semi-autobiographical.) Now I get that reading this as a child is a different experience then reading it as an adult. Knowing about the life of Louisa May Alcott adds a totally different dimension Yeah, well this was okay, just like two stars say. The first essay was fine, the second I started to bog down on, the third was full of medical horror stories...lose me quickly with that, and by the fourth I was just beaten down, okay, whatever. These are fictional characters, y'all. (Yes, I know it is semi-autobiographical.) Now I get that reading this as a child is a different experience then reading it as an adult. Knowing about the life of Louisa May Alcott adds a totally different dimension, sure, but she was writing to sell books and she WAS a woman of her time, no matter how "forward thinking" or "oppressed and constrained" she was, and she was trying to sell books and please publishers and an audience and make money, so all this speculation and analyzation and comparing of oneselves to the characters makes me a little crabby, I guess. Also makes me think of those annoying quizzes, Which Sex In the City/Harry Potter/Disney Princess are YOU?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    All of the authors in this collection read Little Women as children, and each of them wrote an essay about one of the four March sisters. All were interesting, but my favorite was the essay on Amy, written by Jane Smiley, one of my favorite authors. This was an enjoyable and quick read, and if you loved Little Women, you will like this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    This charming collection of essays pairs well-known authors with each of the March sisters to ruminate on the connections these authors have with “their” sister and with Little Women as a whole. Published to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Little Women’s publication, this special Library of America title does a great job at giving space for the Jo Marches of today: Kate Bolick explores “frock shock,” that feeling that Meg gets when she goes to her “Vanity Fair” ball wearing the borrowed gown, This charming collection of essays pairs well-known authors with each of the March sisters to ruminate on the connections these authors have with “their” sister and with Little Women as a whole. Published to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Little Women’s publication, this special Library of America title does a great job at giving space for the Jo Marches of today: Kate Bolick explores “frock shock,” that feeling that Meg gets when she goes to her “Vanity Fair” ball wearing the borrowed gown, and a feeling many of us women get when we wear something SO DIFFERENT from our usual. Jenny Zhang looks at femininity and ambition and why she found Jo so lacking when she was a kid (but not so much now). Carmen Maria Machado airs an idea about Beth that I found so shocking that I gasped when I read it, and Jane Smiley tries to convince us that Amy is the feminist of our time (Greta Gerwig was more convincing). If you can’t get enough of Little Women right now, this is a great essay collection to dip into.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    Ok so this rating would probably be like 3 stars were it not for Carmen Maria Machado’s stupendous essay on the dehumanization of Louisa May Alcott’s sister, Lizzie, into the character that is now Beth March. For those of you who don’t know the story of Little Women, Beth’s task is to be a saintly foil for the other, less preternaturally angelic March sisters. Beth’s death is tragic, but the suppression of the character of the real-life Lizzie, Alcott’s invalid sister - who raged at her confinem Ok so this rating would probably be like 3 stars were it not for Carmen Maria Machado’s stupendous essay on the dehumanization of Louisa May Alcott’s sister, Lizzie, into the character that is now Beth March. For those of you who don’t know the story of Little Women, Beth’s task is to be a saintly foil for the other, less preternaturally angelic March sisters. Beth’s death is tragic, but the suppression of the character of the real-life Lizzie, Alcott’s invalid sister - who raged at her confinement and wrote sardonic letters home when on vacation, asking her family to write to their “little skeleton” - is the real tragedy. The other essays are also well-written and at times insightful, but the Beth one takes the cake. Come for the March sisters. Stay for the Beth essay.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    This is a fun book for any fan of “Little Women.” Besides being attracted by the subject matter, I initially bought it because I’ve read and loved books by both Carmen Maria Machado and Jane Smiley, and—although I liked Kate Bolick’s essay on Meg and Jenny Zhang’s piece about Jo—my favorite essays turned out to be by these writers who first attracted me. Machado’s consideration of Beth is both funny (she has a wry, one-of-a-kind voice that I just love reading) and heartbreaking, as she cites pri This is a fun book for any fan of “Little Women.” Besides being attracted by the subject matter, I initially bought it because I’ve read and loved books by both Carmen Maria Machado and Jane Smiley, and—although I liked Kate Bolick’s essay on Meg and Jenny Zhang’s piece about Jo—my favorite essays turned out to be by these writers who first attracted me. Machado’s consideration of Beth is both funny (she has a wry, one-of-a-kind voice that I just love reading) and heartbreaking, as she cites primary sources to reveal the trials of the real-life model for Beth, Lizzie Alcott. And I have to say that I’m surprised by the negative reactions in other Goodreads reviews of Smiley’s rehabilitative essay on Amy. It contained well-observed literary criticism and astute textual analysis, gave me new insights into this often maligned character, and made me want to re-read ”Little Women” more than any of the other essays had. I appreciated each of the pieces, however, and would recommend this book to anyone who has fond memories of reading (and re-reading over and over again!) Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jessie Weaver

    Rating 4.5. For me it was the perfect time for this book, as my daughter is currently in a production of the Little Women musical and I just reread it. If you haven't read recently/are a diehard fan, I think you may lose some of the references. The perspectives of the four authors on the four sisters with extra context from Louisa May Alcott's life was just fascinating to me. Really enjoyed the different writing styles and personal stories. Rating 4.5. For me it was the perfect time for this book, as my daughter is currently in a production of the Little Women musical and I just reread it. If you haven't read recently/are a diehard fan, I think you may lose some of the references. The perspectives of the four authors on the four sisters with extra context from Louisa May Alcott's life was just fascinating to me. Really enjoyed the different writing styles and personal stories.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pearl Grace

    I love nonfiction such as this, relatable to literary characters. I enjoyed KateBolick's essay on Meg and Jane Smiley's take on Amy. I definitely identified to each March sister at some point in the story. I love nonfiction such as this, relatable to literary characters. I enjoyed KateBolick's essay on Meg and Jane Smiley's take on Amy. I definitely identified to each March sister at some point in the story.

  23. 4 out of 5

    emily

    i liked each of these essays better as the book went on, with Machado and Smiley being far and away the best, or maybe the closest to what i was hoping for. the first two didn't do very much for me, but i'm glad i read this. really liked the narrator, too. i liked each of these essays better as the book went on, with Machado and Smiley being far and away the best, or maybe the closest to what i was hoping for. the first two didn't do very much for me, but i'm glad i read this. really liked the narrator, too.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shaazia

    Such great insight into one of our most beloved classics! Now I feel like rereading Little Women.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    This is a non fiction book discussing a fiction book: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It was interesting and made me re-evaluate why I liked Little Women growing up.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kaila Lancaster

    Really loved Jenny Zhang and Carmen Maria Machado’s essays 📖✨

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Worth reading for Jane Smiley’s take on Amy :) she’s been redeemed / re-envisioned / acknowledged and seen.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    Really liked the essays on Jo and Beth

  29. 5 out of 5

    Scout

    All four essays were quite different, and quite good. Each brought quite a personal touch to the discussion of one of the March sisters, comparisons with the author's own lives from larger things like a whole upbringing, to smaller things like choosing a single dress to wear to an awkward social function. Got some nice kicks of nostalgia just from remembering Little Women itself, and it was interesting to learn about Louisa May Alcott's life, which I didn't know much about before, besides the fac All four essays were quite different, and quite good. Each brought quite a personal touch to the discussion of one of the March sisters, comparisons with the author's own lives from larger things like a whole upbringing, to smaller things like choosing a single dress to wear to an awkward social function. Got some nice kicks of nostalgia just from remembering Little Women itself, and it was interesting to learn about Louisa May Alcott's life, which I didn't know much about before, besides the fact that she based the Marches heavily on her own family. I don't think the essays were too short, exactly, but the book is a thin volume and it did speed by-- it makes me want essays on Marmee and Laurie and Aunt March too! The only one of the four authors I had read before was Carmen Maria Machado, but this makes me want to go out and pick up the other essayists' previous work.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ked

    This was a really mixed bag. Carmen Maria Machado's essay on Beth was by far my favorite essay in the volume. I'd easily give that one 4 stars. A really haunting exploration of how someone's personhood can be completely subsumed into someone else's narrative. The essays on Meg and Jo were charming, if kind of forgettable. I don't anticipate either of them sticking with me like the Machado essay. Jane Smiley's essay on Amy, though... sheesh. I'm open to revisionist views of Amy, and I like Jane Smi This was a really mixed bag. Carmen Maria Machado's essay on Beth was by far my favorite essay in the volume. I'd easily give that one 4 stars. A really haunting exploration of how someone's personhood can be completely subsumed into someone else's narrative. The essays on Meg and Jo were charming, if kind of forgettable. I don't anticipate either of them sticking with me like the Machado essay. Jane Smiley's essay on Amy, though... sheesh. I'm open to revisionist views of Amy, and I like Jane Smiley in general, but what the hell was that? All that business about how "if I were Amy's mother, I would do X, which is obviously superior to how the March family handled things" was INCREDIBLY grating and weirdly oblivious to historical context.

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