“Clouds drifted below her. Mist rose over cliffs and caverns and a faraway lake. Yesterday’s rainfall still splashed over rocks and paths. She could now see that one wrong step could have ended her life…Her feet were cold in her boots. Her neck felt chilled where it was touched by her hair that hadn’t yet dried. But even the ache in her legs reminded her that she’d said she could make it here, where she could see the country where she’d be going. One valley in Italy looked small enough to hold in her hand.” Jeannine Atkins, LITTLE WOMAN IN BLUE: A NOVEL OF MAY ALCOTT
May Alcott spends her days sewing blue shirts for Union soldiers, but she dreams of painting a masterpiece―which many say is impossible for a woman―and of finding love, too. When she reads her sister’s wildly popular novel, Little Women, she is stung by Louisa’s portrayal of her as “Amy,” the youngest of four sisters who trades her desire to succeed as an artist for the joys of hearth and home. Determined to prove her talent, May makes plans to move far from Massachusetts and make a life for herself with room for both watercolors and a wedding dress. Can she succeed? And if she does, what price will she have to pay?
Based on May Alcott’s letters and diaries, as well as memoirs written by her neighbors, Little Woman in Blue puts May at the center of the story she might have told about sisterhood and rivalry in an extraordinary family.
Please refrain from throwing pencils at me, but I despise Little Women. I think it is silly, saccharine drivel. Because of this, I was reluctant to pick up LITTLE WOMAN IN BLUE, but I’m so glad I did. Atkins delivers a marvelous reimagining of the very human story behind one of America’s most beloved novels.
Artists are often jealous by nature. They wish heartily for one another’s success when they’re struggling, and then covet it when another achieves a certain level of status. Equal parts self-doubt and ego, artists experience an incessant war within the psyche. Atkins fully animates these competitions and struggles, giving an unflinching glimpse into the tensions of a being a woman in the nineteenth century, in a working class family, in a nation at war. LITTLE WOMAN IN BLUE portrays these conflicts of sister and world with just the right touch–never burdening the reader with too much hopelessness, while creating intrigue and bringing the well-known writers and thinkers of Concord, Massachusetts to vivid life.
Throughout the reading of the novel I was often tempted to look online for May’s full life story, but I’m happy that I waited until I finished. LITTLE WOMAN IN BLUE is the Little Women I have always wanted, and for those who enjoy literature of this time period, and complicated female protagonists, I highly recommend it.