Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: Little Woman in Blue by Jeannine Atkins

Like just about every other young bookish girl, I read Little Women growing up. In fact, I read Little Men and Jo's Boys as well. And like the majority who read it, I desperately wanted to grow up and be Jo March. She was the be all and end all of heroines. (Well, I'm still disappointed that she didn't marry Laurie but I suppose I might eventually get over it.) I never gave much thought to little Amy, the family pet who came across as a little bit of a spoiled, vain, flibberty gibbet. So I was completely intrigued to find that Amy was modeled to some extent on Louisa May Alcott's youngest sister, May. What was even more surprising was the way in which May was so much more interesting than the paragon of motherhood that Amy grew up to be. Jeannine Atkins' new novel, Little Woman in Blue, fictionalizes May's life, bringing to light her accomplishments, her humanness, and her desires, bringing an oft overlooked, yet talented in her own right, Alcott into the light.

May Alcott found her passion for painting at the age of ten. But she was born into a world that made it very difficult for women to be artists, expecting them to give up their artistic passion and ambitions to marry and raise a family, a world that often believed that women were incapable of being artists of the same caliber as men. May was determined to prove the world wrong. Even as she helped her mother tend to their home, to cook, clean, and sew, she needed creative time too, time spent with her paintbrush in hand, capturing what she saw before her. As the younger sister of Louisa May Alcott, she wrestles with the desire to be good and helpful but to also achieve the success, acclaim, and professional respect that her older sister has found. Her relationship with her sister is a complicated one tinged with both respect and envy and once May sees how Louisa has portrayed her in the character of Amy in the famous Little Women, she is even more determined to live life on her own terms.

Atkins has taken what is known about May Alcott and expanded on it, giving voice to a vibrant, intelligent, and determined woman. She details the myriad of stumbling blocks May faced and the ways she did eventually find and fulfill her desires. May is very definitely a woman of her time and she is torn between what she wants and what society expects of her. Her passion for her art drives her and shines through the narrative, making the life she chooses and which ultimately takes her so very far from home and family the only choice that she can make. Many famous characters in the arts and literary worlds cross May's path through the course of the book, some pointing to the budding promise of positive change for women and others still hidebound in their attitudes and each of these characters has an impact on May. May as a character is by turns confident and uncertain. She knows what she wants, both art and a family, but she doesn't know how to find and maintain both, having to forge her own way if she does intend to have them. Her doubts and insecurities make her real, her desire for her sister's support and pride in her makes her human. Atkins has drawn a fascinating, artistically talented young woman emerging first from the shadow of her family's impoverished situation and then from the long shadow cast by a beloved sister, struggling for recognition and respect in her own right. Fans of Little Women will certainly enjoy this imagined look at the woman who was much more complex than little Amy March.

Thanks to the publisher and Caitlin from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a great read! I read another book that featured (as a supporting character) May and I'd love to read more.


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