Tuesday, June 29, 2010

M is for McNees

I read The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees for my "M" entry in the Historical Tapestry's The Alphabet in Historical Fiction Challenge.

I chose this book for two reasons. First, it's about one of my favorite childhood authors, Louisa May Alcott - I cannot count the times I've read and re-read Little Women, or how many versions of the movie I've watched. Secondly, the book hinted of a secret summer that may have influenced the author, either in a good or a bad way. Curiosity is the bane of existence ... just in a good way.

Here's the blurb for The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (taken from the author's website):
Millions of readers across generations have laughed and cried with the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women. And there has never been a more beloved heroine in the history of American letters than Jo March, Louisa’s alter ego and an iconic figure of independent spirit and big dreams. But as Louisa knew all too well, big dreams often come at a cost.

In her debut novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O’Connor McNees deftly mixes fact and fiction as she imagines a summer lost to history, carefully purged from Louisa’s letters and journals, a summer that would change the course of Louisa’s writing career—and inspire the story of love and heartbreak between Jo and Teddy “Laurie” Laurence, Jo’s devoted neighbor and kindred spirit.

In the summer of 1855, Walt Whitman’s controversial Leaves of Grass has just been released, and the notion of making a living as a writer is still a far-off dream for Louisa. She is twenty-two years old, vivacious, and bursting with a desire to be free of her family and societal constraints so she can do what she loves the most—write. The Alcott family, destitute, as usual, moves to a generous uncle’s empty house in Walpole, New Hampshire, for the summer. Here, a striking but pensive Louisa meets the fictional Joseph Singer. Louisa is initially unimpressed by Joseph’s charms. But just as Louisa begins to open her heart, she learns that Joseph may not be free to give his away. Their newfound love carries a steep price, and Louisa fears she may pay with the independence she has fought so hard to protect.

I was hooked right from the beginning. The story had a way of grabbing me and not letting go for a long period of time. I truly lost myself in this book. I was "transported" back to pre-Civil War America, and saw it through a young woman's eyes. For some odd reason it felt like I was truly there. There were times that I felt like I was reading Little Women, and then it hit me that maybe Louisa May Alcott took her family (four girls) as the model for the Marsh's.

I think what I most liked about the story was Louisa's inner battle about losing her independence and her need to write and follow the path that she always imagined and then falling in love with a man that in her mind would make her lose all her hopes and dreams.

Although I enjoyed the fictional life I am now curious on her real life, so I'll be searching for a biography.

Don't forget to visit Historical Tapestry for more M entries.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees (4/5) Historical Fiction; Published: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (4/2010); New Author; Alphabet Historical Challenge (13); Year of the Historical (10); Books 2010 (65);

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