Having recently read Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women, I was interested in a modern retelling of the story. The Little Women does not disappoint. Imagine the sisters (only named Green instead of March): Meg (the eldest), Joanna (the middle), and Amy (the youngest) - Beth only gets the briefest mention as a dearly departed painted turtle - placed in 1999. The girls discover that their mother, an English professor, had an affair with a graduate student (Janet Green is no Marmee). Their father, rather than punishing her, accepts her infidelity and forgives her. The girls, unable to forgive and disgusted with their parents' moral shortcomings, abandon them. Joanna and Amy pack up and move in with Meg, who is a junior at Yale. The three sisters share a dumpy New Haven apartment with roommate Teddy. Joanna gets a job at Starbucks after school to help make ends meet; Amy has troublemaking friends at her new high school; Meg deals with some personal issues and her new responsibilities as a foster parent while trying to keep up with her studies.
Some elements of the story pay homage to Alcott, sometimes in surprising and unexpected minor details. Joanna (please don't call her Jo) is a writer, like her namesake, Jo March. In fact, the entire premise of the novel is that it is written by Joanna, with readers' notes by Amy and Meg interspersed throughout. Amy is an artist, just like Amy March. Certain events in the novel mimic events in the classic. Even Teddy seems quite similar to Alcott's Teddy, as he becomes a beloved older brother-type to the girls.
While there are some character and plot similarities, this novel is also quite a departure from Alcott's. The girls, after all, are living at the end of the twentieth century, a life without parental guidance. They are all quite independent, educated, erudite, and much more colorful in their language and personalities. Literary and pop culture references abound, and the girls all have impressive vocabulary (cromulent is a favorite word). One wonders if the March girls would be anything like the Greens, were they placed in 1999 (and if Marmee were not so saintly). One thing is for sure: the Green sisters are just as likeable.
Because some of the plot details parallel Little Women, the novel ends up being somewhat predictable in places. But it is interesting to see Weber's interpretations of the events in Alcott's story. The only major problem with the novel is the rapid conclusion. The pacing of the story is excellent until this point. The novel's ending is predictable, and there are juicy parts leading up to it that are not fleshed out enough, particularly regarding Meg. Even though the conclusion falls short, overall The Little Women is funny, witty, and worth reading if you're an Alcott fan, but especially if you're someone who thought Little Women was too boring.