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The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly probably could have done with a closer editorial eye.  I get the impression that there were passages from this book in which certain people might have been referred to by the wrong name; however, most of these were the passages in which one of Jo March's letters were being related, so I'm not sure if that was case or if it was a case of certain characters were known by more than one name and this was not explained properly.  While this is a stand alone book, I recommend the reader read the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott before reading this one or at the very least familiarize themselves with that novel's storyline and characters because Donnelly assumes her reader has more than just a passing knowledge of Little Women characters and storyline which is what I have.  I've never read the book--though I have seen parts of a movie adaptation (or the entire movie adaptation, I can't really remember, it was a long time ago) that had Winona Ryder and Batman, I mean, Christian Bale, in it.  Other than the confusion over characters mentioned in the letters in this book, I enjoyed Donnelly's novel.

The story follows three British sisters, daughters of an American expatriate mother and British father, who are the modern day descendants of Jo March, one of the sisters portrayed in the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott.  The Atwater sisters are as different from each other as the March sisters were from each other.

Lulu is adrift in her life and her career; she's at loose ends as to what she wants to do with herself and despairs that she'll never meet a man who'll love and accept her for who she is.  One can't help but feel for Lulu because she's the one that gets ganged up on by her well meaning sisters and parents who only want her to finally decide what it is she wants to do for a career.  And working successive dead end jobs in an antiques store, a skeevy pub, as a dogwalker and in a toy shop are not acceptable uses of a degree in biochemistry according to Lulu's family.

Elder sister Emma, responsible, sensible, dependable, and sophisticated, is planning a wedding; youngest sister Sophie, flighty, beautiful, dramatic (and let's be honest, the one who annoyed me the most) is on the cusp of the successful theater acting career that she's always wanted.  Lulu, prickly, direct, aimless professionally, hopeless romantically, is the black sheep of the family.  After discovering a cache of her great-great-grandmother Jo March's letters in her parents' attic, Lulu discovers a kindred spirit in Jo who was an equally prickly, direct, socially awkward, independent, intelligent personality.  It is in these letters and in what they share about Jo's life and family that Lulu finds comfort, solace, and hope because in the end her great-great-grandmother led a full life with a husband and children, and she was beloved and fiercely adored by her family.

The story follows the lives, familial relationships and dynamics of the three sisters.  The sisters are vividly, distinctively portrayed as three dimensional characters individual from one another.  Fans of Little Women and readers who enjoy stories with female relationships at their center will enjoy this novel.  I recommend you pick it up the next time you visit the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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