When I applied for colleges, I lost count of how many little statements I had to write—sometimes several for just one school (I’m looking at you, NYU). The best schools let me choose from a bunch of options. I remember there was one that asked for something along the lines of, “What literary character would you want to meet?”
I love this question. I love hearing other peoples’ answers to it. Little Women & Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted runs with this idea: What if you woke up in the pages of one of your favorite novels?
When the book opens, the reader is dumped right in the middle of Emily’s life. Emily doesn’t slow down to explain things in huge chunks of exposition—she just talks and talks, and I picked everything up as I was towed along for the ride. Initially, Emily is in love with Jackson:
Jackson is an architectural marvel of a boy, the architectural part having to do with the way he’s constructed…He’s got a Roman nose, Slavic cheekbones, Scandinavian blond hair, and Mediterranean blue-green eyes. Really, looking at Jackson is like going on a tour of Europe.
Only Jackson is in love with Emily’s older sister, Charlotte. When Emily successfully derails that plan, he switches his attention to her younger sister, Anne. Her frustration with being the middle child, always skipped over or last in line, comes through so clearly that I can’t help but be sympathetic. All Emily wants is to be wanted for herself, to be the first pick. This is totally understandable, and the Jackson situation is just the latest middle child injustice in Emily’s life.
Fans of Little Women (book or movie) will probably enjoy this book more than people who are unfamiliar with it, because by the end of the prologue Emily has been sucked into the lives of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. She finds herself the middle sister again, and soon she’s competing with the March girls for Laurie’s affection, being mean to Beth, and clashing with Jo. Over the course of the novel, Emily lives through four years of life with the Marches, hitting all the highlights of the original story and covering most of the events of the book.
Some of the best moments are when Emily dishes out her snarky commentary on 1860s life and provides psychological analysis of the other characters.
Emily on the etiquette at the dance:
Apparently, in the 1860s, girls weren’t supposed to have any fun, punctuality counted, they were laying the groundwork for female eating disorders and they were scared to touch other people.
Emily on the March sisters:
Meg was the prig. Jo was the rebel. Beth was the least cool of the four, but she was so sweet and kind, it would be impossible to make fun of her. Amy was totally into herself, a blond Bratz doll.
Emily on Beth’s appointment as postmistress:
[Beth’d] been appointed because she was the one who spent the most time at home. Also, because we felt sorry for her, having so little in her life that most people would find exciting and feeling that such an important job would mean lot to her. Also, because some of us were hoping to wean her away from that wretched Joanna doll.
But the repetitiveness of daily life with the Marches comes across much more painfully here than in the original. Little Women & Me derails into a monotonous stream of summarized listing. This slows down the narrative and takes away from Emily’s unique wit and delightful snark. And this is a small complaint, but how does Emily remember so few things about Little Women, despite claiming it is one of her favorite books? For example, she forgets that Amy burns Jo’s manuscript. WHO FORGETS THAT.
Emily’s major flaw is jealousy and an unhealthy preoccupation with wanting what other people have. And though she realizes this herself, Emily doesn’t really begin to redeem herself until the last twenty or so pages, and the ending is way too abrupt—I would have loved to see a little bit of Emily’s life post life with the Marches.
If you’re a fan of the original, though, Little Women & Me is worth a read. Emily’s funny and cute, and her modern interjections into the world of the 1860s add a hilarious awareness of how ludicrously saccharine the original Little Women can be (not that I don’t love it!).
Lee likes all things spy, smelling books, and is almost always craving a cheeseburger. She tweets from @lkyim about reading books NOT assigned for class. Also she likes Greek mythology. And dogs.