Virginia Kantra's new March Sisters books reimagine some of our favorite literary characters as modern-day young women. Both of these novels update the situations while keeping the personalities and connections that made Little Women such a classic.
Meg and Jo
I love Little Women and I doubly-loved this NYC/North Carolina reinvention in Meg and Jo. This story focuses on the older March girls, with Beth and Amy appearing like guest stars. Jo is a food blogger and prep cook in New York, while Meg is a stay-at-home mom to adorable twins in North Carolina. Amy’s doing a fashion internship in Paris, and Beth is a country singer in Branson, MO??? (What now? The rest of these are so on-target that I’m trying to reserve judgement on this one until I read Beth And Amy).
This review is going to have spoilers, because it’s almost impossible to discuss this book without mentioning ways in which it followed and deviated from the original. Anyway, Little Women came out in 1868, which makes it a 151-year-old spoiler.
I just loved the sisters’ relationship here, and I absolutely believed that not just that they were really sisters, but the girls took wildly different paths and still called each other every day. I thought Jo’s blog was a perfect updating. In Alcott’s life, magazine serials were considered pop culture, and sometimes minimalized as lowbrow and easy. just like blogs today. I loved Jo and Eric’s relationship, too.
My only concern was a moment where Jo and Eric decide that it doesn’t matter whether they live in NYC or North Carolina, as long as they’re together. Nope. Speaking as someone who moved from Brooklyn to Chapel Hill when my Southern boyfriend proposed, OMG, IT MATTERS A LOT. Jo, you deserve better than extra-slow conversations about traffic and college basketball, don’t move to North Carolina!
Meg and John’s story was believable and engaging, but a bit Romance 101. The basic premise is that Meg is running herself ragged being a supermom when her problems could be solved if only she could learn to ask for help from John, as if assigning the husband chores isn’t just more mental load for the wife. I realize that grown men sometimes need to be told to take out the trash and buy milk and whatever, but it doesn’t make for an appealing romantic hero. I always thought the modest, hardworking John Brooke was more appealing than selfish Laurie, so I really wanted him to be a great husband too.
Finally, I was just as sad as the March sisters when Marmee and Father’s marital problems are revealed! The modern Mr. March is consistently and realistically inconsiderate towards his wife, leaving her with all the responsibility while he does Important Work, just like in the original story, but modern Mrs. March isn’t having it. Plus, Bronson Alcott was off doing charitable works while his family struggled, making this a sick 151-year-old burn.
I loved this retelling, and I’m already looking forward to seeing the rest of the story in Beth and Amy.
Beth & Amy
Actually I was looking forward to this sequel pretty much as soon as I’d finished Meg and Jo. These two novels are modernizations of the classic Little Women, but retold more as a present-day what-if with the beloved March sister than a beat-for-beat retelling. The characters maintain their personalities, but the setting is realistically modern, so their choices and situations are quite different.
This one focuses on the two younger sisters, and picks up a little while after the first novel. Towards the end of Meg and Jo, Beth gets a country music gig in Branson, and I thought, well, ok, that’s not very Beth-like, but I’ll reserve judgement until the next book. At the beginning of Beth and Amy, Beth’s on tour, with a successful singing and songwriting career, and the fact none of that sounds very Beth-like leads to a lot of the tension in her story arc. Everything made so much sense for our beloved March sister!
I loved every part of Bethie’s storyline, it was such a successful modernization for this favorite character.
Meanwhile, Laurie and Amy getting married has always been kind a sticky spot in the Little Women storyline, even though Jo doesn’t seem to mind and even considers their surprise marriage a good laugh. But dating her sister’s ex feels kind of yucky, and there’s that unpleasant feeling that Amy wanted the Laurence life more than she wanted Laurie.
In this retelling, Jo still has her special friendship with Trey, without ever changing from childhood or even seeming to notice that he’s a man with romantic feelings for her. Their relationship remains important in her life even when she meets and marries Eric. As an adult reader, I’ve understood more and more what Jo saw in Professor Bhaer, and in this retelling, he remains the stable, affectionate center of impulsive, creative Jo’s life. Over the course of this book, Amy’s feelings develop from a little-girl crush on a boy who’s nice to her, into a woman’s love. The novel really shows two important but very different relationships in Trey’s life, without any overlap, which made the whole thing feel much less icky. Also, Amy is developed more and more, finally moving beyond her role as the pretty baby of the family.
This part is a bit of a spoiler, but one of the major themes is about all the March girls coming home as adults, and I really don’t like North Carolina life. This was in Meg and Jo, too, as Jo and Eric tried to figure out their life together, and I just could not get into that choice. If you have a choice between a creative career in the city or hearing people constantly talking super slowly about college basketball, how is that even a choice? Ugh, especially for Amy, who still had a crowd of mean girls from high school (obviously no one was never going to leave NC or move on) in town. UGH NO. Basically, the narrative is leading to a story homecoming and family, and I know where it’s all going, but I’m still thinking up ways the girls can still escape.
Overall, I enjoyed both Meg and Jo and Beth and Amy so much! It was a great reimagining of some of our favorite literary characters, with growing independence and affectionate sisterhood. And, bonus, if you don’t think that moving to small town NC is giving up on all life and joy and creativity, you’ll probably like this even more than I did.