Fresh readings of a much-loved classic.



Louisa May Alcott’s fictional sisters still captivate contemporary readers.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Little Women, four writers offer thoughtful reflections about the famous March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Journalist Bolick (Becoming a Hairstylist, 2019, etc.) recalls that when she was young, Meg seemed unappealing to her, “the quintessential good girl of morality tales,” defined by her prettiness. Alcott’s message, Bolick decided, “was that pretty is a prison. If, like Meg, you are pretty, you can’t also be a writer, or an artist.” As an adult, though, Bolick came to realize that rather than represent sharply contrasting identities, the sisters need to be taken as a whole “to embody different aspects of the female experience,” inviting the reader “to imagine herself into a variety of personalities.” Poet and fiction writer Zhang (Sour Heart, 2017, etc.) recounts her changing responses to Jo, whom at first she hated for “her boyishness, her impetuousness, her obliviousness” to “feminine preening,” and her lack of interest in romance. Yet as she dedicated herself to writing, perhaps at the cost of marriage and children, Zhang came to understand—and to share—Jo’s ambivalence about her choices. Essayist and fiction writer Machado (Her Body and Other Parties, 2017) considers Lizzie Alcott, Louisa’s sister and the model for modest, undemanding Beth. Lizzie, though, was hardly sweet and docile but instead “snarky and strange and funny and kind and suffered tremendously and died angry at the world.” Transformed into a literary character, she has been effaced. “How do you keep other people from making you a Beth?” Machado wonders. “How do you stay out of other people’s stories?” Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Smiley (Golden Age, 2015, etc.) considers Amy, who, as the youngest, learns to be observant, flexible, and practical. More than her sisters, Amy “goes about shaping her life in a conscious manner”; she becomes, for Smiley, a “modern woman.” Besides focusing on Amy, Smiley offers a sensitive assessment of Marmee’s mothering, which often reveals a surprising lack of empathy.

Fresh readings of a much-loved classic.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59853-628-7

Page Count: 194

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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