book review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees
The back story: I was eager to read this book as soon as I heard about it. It's published by Amy Einhorn (Penguin), whose publishing philosopshy for this imprint is "intelligent writing with a strong narrative, always with great storytelling at its core." I'm also a huge fan of historical fiction about real people. Years ago when I thought I wanted to be a historian, I was often frustrated that history didn't hold all the answers, and I adore novelists who take the gaps in our collective knowledge and create stories to help fill them in in some way. When Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha' Reading? proposed a reading series of this novel, I jumped at the opportunity.
The basics: The title is quite descriptive. This book tells the story of one summer (and fall) in Louisa May Alcott's life. The Alcotts, poor because Bronson's philosophy is at odds with earning an income to support his family, move to a friend's home in Walpole, New Hampshire in 1855.
My favorite lines:
"I could never love anyone better than I love my independence." (p. 104)
"There is nothing I love better htan home, wherever home happens to be." (p. 130)
"'Sometimes I feel like life is one long string of exploitations,' Louisa said. 'Use or be used.'" (p. 143)
The verdict: I loved this book. Kelly O'Connor McNees made these characters come alive. Each character is nuanced and real. If you've read Little Women, you'll see many parallels between Louisa and her sisters and those characters. I read the book almost twenty years ago, and I was amazed how many things came back to me after reading this book. Writing a novel about real people can come off more as a biography or more as a novel, but this one straddles the two genres beautifully. Yes, it's Louisa's story, but O'Connor McNees made the town of Walpole, its residents and the time period come alive. She deftly uses one famous woman's story to paint a picture of the time and place as well as Louisa's place in it. The librarian and researcher in me found O'Connor McNees' note on sources and the research process as fascinating as the book itself. Overall: it's an immensely readable, beautiful story of a woman, a town and a summer. I'm looking forward to the next novel by Kelly O'Connor McNees.
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Release date: April 1, 2010
Source: I received this book for review from the publisher. Thank you!
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Want to know more? Join us at 9 p.m. EDT tonight to discuss this novel with the author at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'!