Belittled Women

HarperCollins/Clarion. Nov. 2022. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780358567356.
Gr 9 Up–Jo Porter lives with her older sister, Meg, and her younger sister, Amy, in New Concord, KS; it is not a coincidence that their mom is nicknamed Marmee and is consumed by Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The teens were bred to be actors in Little Women Live!, a small-town theme park for devotees of Alcott and the simply curious. While Meg is emotionally and physically checked-out and Amy is enthusiastically all-in, narrator Jo is conflicted. She wants to help her mom sustain the family business, especially since money is tight, but she also craves her freedom and the life of a carefree adolescent. Sellet convincingly recreates the look and feel of a close-knit 1860s New England family, but that which makes the story appealing is also its Achilles’ heel: readers unfamiliar with the source material will be lost. Without sufficient background knowledge of Little Women (and even with it, at moments), the main characters will grate on readers; Jo and Amy bicker constantly to the point of irritation. While Sellet thoughtfully continues the conversation started by Alcott about society’s expectations of women, the book clumsily attempts to address topics such as racial diversity and sexual orientation in a seeming endeavor to compensate for its all-white (except for Laurie) and straight cast. These moments fall flat and go nowhere, as do mentions of climate change that are thrown into the narrative and then deserted. Overall, what could have been a charming, thoughtful recreation of a beloved story is bogged down with too many missteps.
VERDICT Recommended only for diehard Alcott fans.

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