So Many Little Women, So Many Beginnings

I’m back with another installment of “Macy reads every Little Women adaptation or related commodity that she can find.” In case you’ve missed previous installments I’ve written about Little Witches, a few modern day Little Women graphic novels, Jo & Laurie, and my last trip to Orchard House in January of 2020. That probably makes Little Women the single most written about subject on my blog.

Up on the docket now is Bethany C. Morrow’s So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix. This book is the second entry in the Remixed Classics series from Macmillan’s Feiwel and Friends imprint. According to Macmillan’s website, This series features “authors from diverse backgrounds [who] take different literary classics from centuries past and reinterpret them through their own unique cultural lens. This collection will serve YA readers as both a series of fun, engaging reads as well as a subversive overall look at what our society has deemed “classic” — works that are overwhelmingly cishet, white, and male.”

While Little Women isn’t overwhelmingly male, it’s characters are white and cishet, though there is modern theorizing that Louisa May Alcott may have been queer.

Morrows Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are Meg, Joanna, Bethlehem, and Amethyst, though like Alcott’s original characters they frequently go by the shortened forms of their names. The sisters aren’t growing up in Civil War era Massachusetts but in the Freedpeople’s Colony of Roanoke Island in 1863.

The Summary

North Carolina, 1863. As the American Civil War rages on, the Freedpeople’s Colony of Roanoke Island is blossoming, a haven for the recently emancipated. Black people have begun building a community of their own, a refuge from the shadow of the “old life.” It is where the March family has finally been able to safely put down roots with four young daughters:

Meg, a teacher who longs to find love and start a family of her own.

Jo, a writer whose words are too powerful to be contained.

Beth, a talented seamstress searching for a higher purpose.

Amy, a dancer eager to explore life outside her family’s home.

As the four March sisters come into their own as independent young women, they will face first love, health struggles, heartbreak, and new horizons. But they will face it all together.

A Remix Not an Adaptation

I think the most important thing that I wish I would have had in mind when going into this novel is that it truly is a remix and not an adaptation, the goal of the Remixed Classics series to to apply new cultural lenses to familiar stories. At first, I was bummed to see that the story didn’t start with the iconic line, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” but instead this story is set in the humid heat of a North Caroline summer and I could feel that heat in Morrow’s writing.

Morrow also opens on Amy, rather than all of the sisters together or just on Jo. By starting with Amy and then moving to introduce the other sisters and their mother, whom they call Mammy, So Many Beginnings establishes that, like Little Women, the story is truly about the sisters and their relationship.

One of the things that I really appreciated about this story was the way that Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy felt both instantly recognizable but uniquely shaped by the setting and circumstances of this story. I’d never heard of the Freedpeople’s Colony of Roanoke Island before, and was inspired to go do more research to learn about this colony. Morrow shares about her research process in the author’s note as well.

I enjoyed this whole book and it had some really great Easter eggs and references to Alcott’s work, while still feeling so much like it’s own unique novel.

Handling The Story’s Second Part

One of the things that I think is critical about any reworking of Little Women is how the author chooses to handle the second part of Alcott’s story, because the time jump is important in terms of allowing the characters increased growth and for providing room for the relationships they’re in to mature and change. The graphic novel adaptations for young readers that I’ve read tend to stay away from the novel’s second part. While this fits the scope of those adaptations, I think it ultimately does a disservice to the characters and to the text.

I was delighted to see Morrow’s inclusion of a Part II which moves forward three years into 1868. While this part of the novel is much shorter than the first part, it suitably advances the character’s individual stories as well as the collective story. I really enjoyed that Amy, Jo, and Lorie were in Boston. Perhaps the best part was the way in which each character felt true to themselves and got to have experiences that didn’t come at the expense of themselves or their character development.

What to Do with Beth

In terms of characters, whether remix or adaptation, I pay special attention to Beth. Beth often feels like she gets the least time on the page, the least character development, and generally (spoilers for a 150 year old book ahead), she dies. While Little Women adaptations for younger readers often avoid Beth’s death, I was curious to see what So Many Beginnings would do with Beth because it is intended for a young adult audience.

I was delighted by several things:

  1. Beth gets to have a vocation that takes her outside of the March family home. Beth is still shy, and felt like the character that Alcott established but had more space to grow and develop as a character. I really appreciated this
  2. Beth doesn’t die. I’m not a “oh but Beth has to die” sort of person, so I really appreciated how Morrow handled chronic illness in her writing of Beth while still letting Beth live.
  3. Beth gets a future. I think the saddest part about Beth’s death is just the way that she is so often denied a future both in Alcott’s original work and how adaptations that don’t deal with Little Women‘s second part leave readers with knowledge of Alcott’s source text knowing that Beth could still die as a child in the future of these adaptations. Morrow gives Beth drive and purpose and a future and I loved every moment of it.

Jo & LOrie

I loved pretty much everything about this book, but perhaps my favorite thing about this book was the way that Morrow presented Jo and Lorie’s relationship. I’m going to say as little as possible because at the end of the day, I want you to read this book and I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but just know that it’s so good.

Morrow has a view of Jo and Lorie’s relationship that I think fundamentally understands what existed between Jo and Laurie in Little Women and that gives it so much more of a satisfying ending and direction to to go in. I’m obsessed and while I checked a copy of this book out from the library, I would love to buy a copy so I can revisit So Many Beginnings again and again.

Are there any Little Women adaptations, retellings, or various other commodities I’m missing out on that you might like to see me blog about? Let me know in the comments or through my contact form!

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