Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Book Review - The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

Book Synopsis
Elise Hooper’s debut novel conjures the fascinating, untold story of May Alcott—Louisa’s youngest sister and an artist in her own right. 

We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May. 

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

My Review
One of the first chapter books I ever read was Little Women.  My copy was a Whitman Book, and I remember the joy of reading about the March family, and especially Jo, who was always one of my favorite heroines.  Little Women has always held a special place in my heart (and my bookshelf!), so I was thrilled to have a chance to read The Other Alcott.

The Other Alcott tells the story of Louisa May Alcott's younger sister May, who was the inspiration for Amy in Little Women.  May wants to be more than just "the other Alcott."  She wants to travel, to study art, and make a living as an artist -- at a time when this was not a likely career for women.

I found the relationship between Louisa and May fascinating.  Initially I was most interested in the glimpses of Louisa in this book, but as I went on I became interested in May's story too.

That said, I have to share this intriguing passage with other fans of Little Women.  Louisa is writing to May:

"I don't see how Mr. Niles expects me to spin 400 more pages of this 'Little Women' hokum, but I suppose I must.  He vexes me to no end with all his suggested titles - 'Wedding Marches' is the latest stupidity. ... I'll keep writing what they want.  But I'll be getting the last laugh -- I've given into perversity and have made a quirky husband for Jo March" (p. 40).

May travels from her family home to Boston to study art, and later to Europe.  I found her life and studies fascinating.  She struggles to find her own way as an artist, and also to be taken seriously because she was a woman.  In one memorable scene she goes to a life drawing session attended only by other men who heckle her and tease her until she takes up her charcoal and just ignores them, drawing the man posing in front of the group.

There are mentions of some memorable names in art history:  John Ruskin, J.M.W. Turner, William Morris Hunt, Thomas Eakins.  I found the historical details of art and life 1868 - 1880 fascinating.

The author's style of writing and descriptions in this novel are lovely.  For instance:

"She had arrived back in Concord to find the town fully ripened with summer.  Strawberries the size of May's thumb hung off bushes at the side of the road.  The cucumber vines dragged the ground under the heft of gigantic vegetables.  Lush greenery swathed the yard.  Yet in the midst of all of this bounty, her family appeared diminished and forlorn" (p. 140).

Most of all, though, the characters, especially May and Louisa, are so beautifully drawn in this novel.  The Other Alcott is sure to interest fans of historical fiction, Louisa May Alcott, art history, or a really well told story.  I recommend it highly.

Author Bio
Though a New Englander by birth (and at heart), Elise Hooper lives with her husband and two young daughters in Seattle, where she teaches history and literature.
Find out more about Elise at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.