Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees

by Kim on April 29, 2010 · 17 comments

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Title: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
Author: Kelly O’Connor McNees
Genre: Historical Fiction
Year: 2010
Acquired: Reviewed for TLC Book Tours
Rating: ★★★½☆

Two Sentence Summary: The historical record for one summer of beloved author Louisa May Alcott’s life is mysteriously silent. What if Alcott was involved with a summer romance that would inspire Alcott’s career and the love story between Laurie and Jo in Little Women?

One Sentence Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is a solid work of fiction with a satisfying love story that whetted my appetite to learn more about Louisa May Alcott.

Long Review: When I was in elementary school I was in the district’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) program. For one month every year, all the girls in the TAG program got together to celebrate Women’s Herstory Month. When I was in about fourth grade our project was to research a woman who we admired and had a career we hoped to follow, then make a cardboard representation of her with our research. These projects were then displayed in the library for the rest of the month.

I chose Louisa May Alcott.

At the time, fourth-grade me was certain I wanted to be a writer. I guess the idea of a journalist hadn’t hit yet, so a novelist was the next best thing. I’d borrowed Little Women from the library and just loved Jo — her independence, following her dream, and finding what she wanted was really inspiring to me. Learning that Louisa’s real life wasn’t quite that idyllic was a challenge for little me, but I still wanted to be her.

My recollection of Louisa May Alcott has dimmed since then, but I still hold a place for her in my heart, so of course when I read about The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott I was really curious to read it.

Luckily, McNees’s debut novel delivers on the promise it sets up on the book jacket — a fictional exploration of a summer that’s almost completely lost from Louisa’s letters and journals. We know Louisa was living in Walpole, New Hampshire with her family, and that she’d move to Boston later that year. But what happened during the summer is, well, lost.

McNees creates a fictional love story between Louisa and Joseph Singer, a local shopkeeper’s son whom Lousia is initially unimpressed with but eventually falls for. However, their relationship has some challenges, and not just Louisa’s own reluctance to give up some of her hard-earned freedom for man. McNees weaves together this story with a lot of factual information about Louisa’s father, the famous Transcendentalist Bronson Alcott, and the rest of her family.

I’d call this a must-read for anyone who has affection for Louisa May Alcott, but I’m not sure if purists would love the idea of fictionalizing the way McNees does. It didn’t bother me in the slightest — I enjoy that sort of thing, usually — but can’t say that for everyone.

But even if you’re not into Alcott, this book still has a lot to offer. McNees’ writing style is clear and quiet, generally mixing the right amount of fictional storytelling with facts about the Alcott’s and their lives. The love story is convincing and well-written and even though Joseph is a fictional fellow, I really did wish he and Louisa could have made it work. She also balances melancholy and optimism well, leaving me with a contented and curious feeling when I was finished reading the story. I wish I could share an example, but my copy is an ARC and I don’t have a final version of the book to check the quote against.

However, there are some points when the book was a little heavy-handed; at some point it’s repetitive to emphasize again that Louisa wants to be independent, wants to not get tied down to marriage or her family because she’s certain marriage will take away any chance she has of being a writer. By page 200 or so, every time that subject would come up I’d give a little sigh and get pulled out of the narrative for a minute. I don’t like it when that happens unnecessarily.

I feel like I haven’t really reviewed this book, just talked about myself and Louisa May Alcott. If you’re still not clear, I guess I’ll just end this by saying I enjoyed this book a lot and stayed up very late one night just so I could finish it. When that happens, I think it’s a sign the book was worth reading.

tlc logo Other Book Tour Reviews: S. Krishna’s Books | Books, Movies, and Chinese Food | The Tome Traveller | Snickollet | lit*chick | This Dangerous Life | Joyfully Retired | Reading Series on Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’? | Devourer of Books | Book-a-rama | Lit and Life | Life in the Thumb | The 3 R’s | kerrianne | Books Like Breathing | Mille Fiori Favoriti

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy April 29, 2010 at 7:58 am

I have been seeing reviews of this book everywhere and have to admit it sounds really good. I was never a huge Little Women fan, but perhaps it is almost time for a re-read :)

Reply

Kim May 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Amy: I think Little Women is a book that would have different impacts at different ages. I loved it when I was little, and I hope I’d feel the same now.

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trish April 29, 2010 at 11:39 am

I love your background with LMA! I admit, though, that while reading the book I was hoping McNees would change the ending! I know that would have been terrible, but I couldn’t help but hope for a happier ending for LMA. :)

Thanks for being on this tour!

Reply

Kim May 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm

trish: A little part of me wanted that too, but I’m ultimately glad she didn’t change that — when Louisa and Joseph met later it was bittersweet and I felt like a happier ending. LMA had a great life, even without a husband :)

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bermudaonion (Kathy) April 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I do love Louisa May Alcott, but I’m not a purist. I’m really looking forward to this book!

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Kim May 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm

bermudaonion: I hope you enjoy it when you get to read it!

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nomadreader (Carrie) April 29, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I really enjoyed this one. I wouldn’t consider myself a fan (or not a fan) of Alcott, but I do enjoy writers. I also tend to really enjoy novelists who can imagine realistic seeming times in the lives of real people. One of the reasons I didn’t make it as a history major was the lack of answers. I love it when people make them up for me!

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Kim May 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm

nomadreader: Ha ha, yeah, history can be frustrating in that regard but sometimes it’s cool when there are openings because it gives people space to imagine. I do like that.

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Margot April 29, 2010 at 8:25 pm

I loved this book so much it made me want to re-read Little Women and more of her work. I decided to start an All Things Alcott Challenge. Feel free to join in.

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Kim May 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Margot: Thanks for the challenge link, it looks like fun! I’d love to read more of Alcott’s other short stories and work sometime soon.

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Elise April 30, 2010 at 3:37 am

I’ve read a few reviews of this, mostly positive. I think I shall have to give it a go. Thanks for your review :)

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Kim May 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Elise: I’ve read mostly positive reviews too — I hope you enjoy it!

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Sheila (Bookjourney) May 7, 2010 at 9:02 pm

I just love how you do your reviews! This is a book I want to read :)

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Kim May 9, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Sheila: Thanks! I’m always sort of tweaking with the format, but I’m starting to like this one a lot.

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