Tuesday, October 12, 2021

So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix (Remixed Classics #2,) by Bethany C. Morrow (author), Adenrele Ojo (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, ISBN 9781250815507. September 2021

It's 1863, and with the Civil War still raging, the March family--Alcott and Mamie (Margaret), and their daughters Meg, Jo (Johanna), Beth (Bethlehem), and Amy (Amethyst), are beginning free, settled lives in the Freed People's Colony of Roanoke Island. Mr. March built their home with materials supplied by the Union Army. As the book starts, Alcott March has gone off to the Corinth, MS Contraband Camp to offer advice and labor there.

Mamie is working as a secretary in the camp administration office, the March family being among the small number of freed slaves who are literate. Meg is a teacher of young black students, and she's liked but not entirely respected by the white volunteer teachers from the north. She's every bit the homebody set on marriage and family that Louisa May Alcott's Meg is.

Jo is working on the building of new houses, and composing stories in her head. She has no paper and ink to write with, but she enjoys composing mentally, and reciting her work when there's time for people to listen. This Jo has restrictions Alcott's never did, and also, in some ways, greater independence. Mamie and Meg press her to maintain respectability, but no one expects her to be a refined lady.

Beth is sweet, gentle, and a gifted, skilled seamstress. She remakes dresses abandoned when the slaveowner families fled, and makes new things from scraps and fragments. She becomes ill, too, but it's a different illness, and her story has a different arc.

Amy still has an artistic bent, but she's a dancer, and, I have to say, a lot more likable than Alcott's Amy. Strong-headed, doesn't always pause to be considerate, but it's mostly impulsive thoughtlessness, not selfish indifference. She has a real talent that's going to take her, and Jo, and Lorie (Morrow's version of Alcott's Laurie) to Boston.

Some of the most interesting changes involve Jo and Lorie, who are best friends, very devoted--and Lorie would be delighted if Jo were interested in marriage. Where their relationship really goes is, for me, heartwarming, though perhaps not everyone will agree. There are indications, no stronger than would be acceptable in a novel written in the book's period, that perhaps Jo is asexual.

This may be too much of an overview, but I don't want to say too much about where the plot diverges from the original. The characters are extremely well done, and we see slavery and the end of slavery, including the frustrations and changes for the freed slaves, and the conflicts between the interests of the freed slaves, and northern blacks who were never slaves, who enjoy many of the benefits of being free in the industrially developed north, but not all of them, and still have the need to both preserve respectability, and to avoid being too critical of their "betters."

The four sisters are intelligent, raised to value the education they got in the shadow of slavery where it was illegal, honesty, and kindness. Each has real talents, and each is ambitions in her own way.

I loved this book, and I'll say honestly that I like it a little better than Little Women. Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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