Book Talk: *The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott*, by Kelly O’Connor McNees (TLC Book Tour)

Disclosure: I was provided with an Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) of this book by the publisher, via TLC Book Tours, for review purposes. The book is now available in bookstores. *Use of the purchasing links in this review will generate referral fees through my Amazon Associates account.

The Lost Summer Of Louisa May Alcott by 
Kelly O'Connor McNees

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
Kelly O’Connor McNees
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (2010), Hardcover (0399156526 / 9780399156526)
Fiction (historical), 352 pages

Opening Lines: “It didn’t take long for the Alcott sisters to finish unpacking their clothes. Anna, Louisa, Lizzie, and May didn’t have many dresses, both because they couldn’t afford them and because their father, Bronson, believed a penchant for silk and lace revealed a weakness in one’s character.”

Book description: Millions of readers have fallen in love with Little Women. But how could Louisa May Alcott-who never had a romance-write so convincingly of love and heart-break without experiencing it herself?

Deftly mixing fact and fiction, Kelly O’Connor McNees imagines a love affair that would threaten Louisa’s writing career-and inspire the story of Jo and Laurie in Little Women. Stuck in small-town New Hampshire in 1855, Louisa finds herself torn between a love that takes her by surprise and her dream of independence as a writer in Boston. The choice she must make comes with a steep price that she will pay for the rest of her life.

**Author Kelly O’Connor McNees discusses what inspired The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott in a “Big Idea” guest post on John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever.

Comments: While some other reviewers have mentioned that they knew little about the author of the classic Little Women before reading The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, she’s been a favorite subject of mine for many years. Back in elementary school, I read every one of her books that I could get my hands on – several of them more than once – and sought out biographies of the author as well; I checked at least one of those, Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs, out of the library several times (and read it each time I checked it out, too). I fondly remember dragging my family to visit Orchard House, the Alcott family home in Concord, Massachusetts, during a trip to Boston. Currently, Harriet Reisen’s recent biography, Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, occupies as spot on my wish list.

While Alcott’s most famous work, Little Women, is closely based on her own family, it’s not memoir, and there are portions of the author’s life that aren’t well-documented or deeply explored in the various biographies. Kelly O’Connor McNees uses one of those gaps as the stage for her historical/speculative novel, suggesting what could have come to pass between Louisa Alcott and one young man in a small New Hampshire town during the summer and autumn of 1855.

I found McNees’ writing compatible with the style of the period, but not so old-fashioned as to be challenging to a modern reader. Her story unfolds in a leisurely manner, rich in details, and I was fully absorbed by it. Her suggestion that Louisa loved and lost is plausible, and Joseph Singer is credible as the object of her affections. As befitting the era of the novel – a time when public behavior was very different – McNees effectively evokes the sense of attraction and tension resulting from eyes meeting and gloved fingers touching, and I particularly appreciated the way she accomplished that. She also describes quite well just how hard women worked back before women “went to work,” particularly when their families were impoverished. Keeping house was a full-time task when all tasks were done by hand, and when the head of the household was reluctant to act as a provider – as was Louisa’s father, Transcendentalist philosopher Bronson Alcott, who valued the life of the mind far more than money – there was an even greater need to “make do” at home, or else to humbly accept the assistance of family and friends.

Throughout the novel, Louisa Alcott struggles with her ideas about relationships and marriage, and weighs her concepts of them them against her strong drive to create, work hard, and be responsible to herself, concluding over and over again that she cannot have both and live the life she truly wants. The career/family debate is one of the issues at the core of feminism, and apparently it’s been going on for a couple of centuries; and despite modern women’s efforts to balance it all, it still seems to come down to one over the other all too often. I’ve considered Louisa May Alcott an early feminist icon for much of my life, but this novel makes me wonder how much more of an icon she might be if she had been able to have marriage and family alongside her writing career.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is an engaging debut novel with appeal for fans of domestic novels, historical fiction, and women’s history.

Rating: 4/5

*Buy The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott at Amazon.com

Other stops on this TLC Book Tour:
Thursday, April 1st: S. Krishna’s Books
Monday, April 5th: Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Tuesday, April 6th: The Tome Traveller
Wednesday, April 7th: Snickollet
Thursday, April 8th: lit*chick
Friday, April 9th: This Dangerous Life
Monday, April 12th: Joyfully Retired
Wednesday, April 14th: Reading Series on Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
Thursday, April 15th: Devourer of Books
Monday, April 19th: Book-a-rama
Tuesday, April 20th: Becky’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, April 21st: Lit and Life
Thursday, April 22nd: Life in the Thumb
Tuesday, April 27th: kerrianne
Wednesday, April 28th: Books Like Breathing
Thursday, April 29th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Friday, April 30th: Mille Fiori Favoriti

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