Monday, April 05, 2010

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

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
by Kelly O'Connor McNees
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (April 1, 2010)
352 pages

I read The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott as part of the Reading Series hosted by Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?

From the Author's Website:
Millions of readers across generations have laughed and cried with the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women. And there has never been a more beloved heroine in the history of American letters than Jo March, Louisa’s alter ego and an iconic figure of independent spirit and big dreams. But as Louisa knew all too well, big dreams often come at a cost.

In her debut novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O’Connor McNees deftly mixes fact and fiction as she imagines a summer lost to history, carefully purged from Louisa’s letters and journals, a summer that would change the course of Louisa’s writing career—and inspire the story of love and heartbreak between Jo and Teddy “Laurie” Laurence, Jo’s devoted neighbor and kindred spirit.

In the summer of 1855, Walt Whitman’s controversial Leaves of Grass has just been released, and the notion of making a living as a writer is still a far-off dream for Louisa. She is twenty-two years old, vivacious, and bursting with a desire to be free of her family and societal constraints so she can do what she loves the most—write. The Alcott family, destitute, as usual, moves to a generous uncle’s empty house in Walpole, New Hampshire, for the summer. Here, a striking but pensive Louisa meets the fictional Joseph Singer. Louisa is initially unimpressed by Joseph’s charms. But just as Louisa begins to open her heart, she learns that Joseph may not be free to give his away. Their new found love carries a steep price, and Louisa fears she may pay with the independence she has fought so hard to protect.

My Thoughts:
In a sentence:  I adored this book!

I can still remember sitting in the back seat of my parents' car when I was twelve years old, driving to North Carolina for my first look at snow.  I was consumed with Little Women - I knew from that moment that I would always love reading.  Jo's character was so admirable to me:  strong, smart, focused, independent.  She was everything that I could see myself wanting to be. 

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott provided a spectacular glimpse at the author that brought me Jo.   The view of Alcott's hometown, the family that shaped her life, and an opportunity to move away and become the writer that she wanted to be was breathtakingly real.  I enjoyed the way that the author provided background to Alcott's home life, including her father's transcendentalist lifestyle to which he dedicated all of his focus, despite the ill effects that it may have on his family.

Louisa's relationship with Joseph Singer was stunning and heartbreaking.  Louisa's character was so strong and determined to follow her dreams of writing that she was not looking for the love that she found with Joseph.  The descriptions of their romance were lovely and real.  I felt as if I was reading a novel from the 19th or early 20th century and liked how McNees did not feel the need to give in your face descriptions of the love affair, but provided just enough to let your heart imagine their affection.

I highly recommend The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.  McNees has created a wonderful love story and an empowering story for women that was worthy of Louisa May Alcott's life.

Please take a few minutes to visit the other participants of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott Reading Series.

Source: A special thank you for the ARC that was provided by Riverhead Books


  1. I haven't started this one yet but will bring it with me on vacation later this week. I'm so glad to hear that you loved it, I have so many good books to chose from at the moment that the decision process is difficult. I guess this is a good issue to have :)

  2. Hi Kristi, I really enjoyed this one too. I was a huge Little Women fan as a kid and just loved this imagined book about Louisa May Alcott's life. Great review.