A Hopeful Heart: Louisa May Alcott Before Little Women

Random/Schwartz & Wade. Oct. 2020. 304p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780525646235.
Gr 7 Up–While most readers imagine Louisa May Alcott’s life story to be largely identical to her autobiographical novel, Noyes’s well-researched biography reveals a fascinating journey in the decades prior to the publication of Little Women. Her family moved dozens of times. They followed Alcott’s eccentric father, Bronson, on his failed quests as an education reformer, philosopher, and Utopian commune founder. Her parents’ involvement in intellectual circles allowed Alcott and her sisters to rub elbows with thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and participate in the abolitionist movement and Underground Railroad. While Noyes offers detailed descriptions of each of the family members, the chronological narrative focuses on Alcott’s independent spirit and how she later provided financial support for her family through teaching, working as an army nurse, and writing. This book will appeal to any reader familiar with Little Women; the text shares insight into the family dynamics, misadventures, and love interests that found their way into the novel. Readers with a strong background in American literature will fully appreciate the notable friendships of the Alcott family, which included prominent American writers and philosophers.
VERDICT A valuable addition to biography collections, especially where author studies are in demand.

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