Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy; The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy; The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux; W.W. Norton, 2018. 273 pages; $16.95 (paperback); reading level: adult.

Rioux spends two thirds of her book on background material (a biographical sketch of Alcott and her family, the reception and popularity of Little Women through the years, film and opera adaptations of the original text, and the controversy the book has generated, particularly among feminists) before getting to the issue promised in the subtitle: Why Little Women still matters. And it’s there, in Part III, that things get interesting. Rioux makes a cogent case for why boys should read the book (while admitting it will be a hard sell), delves into various feminist reads of the novel, and suggests that the March sisters might provide options for young girls as they make the journey from adolescence to adulthood. Her observations about Beth bring this nearly-invisible sister out of the shadows and suggest she might have a message for vulnerable young readers. Her focus, however, is on Jo who personifies the contemporary pull women feel between career and home and whose story suggests that, with patience and some compromise, both might be possible. In sum, two thirds is a slow read, the last third intriguing.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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