I found the premise of Lauren Baratz-Logsted's Little Women and Me compelling. A modern-day teenager named Emily March is given a school assignment to write about what she would change from a favorite book. As Emily is pondering which of the two travesties of her childhood favorite, Little Women, to write about, she is suddenly sucked into the book. It's Christmas Eve in the March home, and Emily finds that she is now the "Middle March", a fifth sister falling between Beth and Jo. She has no way to pull herself back out of the story, and finds herself with a sort of "story amnesia" that only allows her to predict some of the expected events.
Emily has to adjust to a life that isn't hers, about which she has only limited information, while also adjusting to the deprivations life in the 1800s (No Twitter! Unshaved legs!). She sets out to right one of the "wrongs" of the original books (keeping an eye out for Beth). But instead of working to help Jo end up with Laurie, Emily competes with Jo for Laurie's attention. I mean, who could resist?
I enjoyed this premise, and I thought that Emily was a strong, intriguing character. I like that although she had always admired Jo as a reader of Little Women, the two rub up against one another as sisters. I also thought that the ending was ingenious and appropriate.
I did, however, find Little Women and Me a bit slow-paced. This is probably a necessary evil for a book that's written to closely follow another, highly episodic book. But it took me quite a while to get through it. I'm not sure whether I would have enjoyed the book more if I had read Little Women more recently (it's been many years), or less (because there would have been more events in the plot that I would have seen coming). I am pretty sure that only fans of the original Little Women will be able to truly enjoy Little Women and Me (especially those who found certain plot elements frustrating).
Little Women and Me is an unusual mix as a novel. Part speculative fiction (as Emily tries to figure out how she can and can't influence the story, etc.), part historical fiction / time travel novel, part homage to a beloved classic, and part realistic story about sibling rivalries. I think that Baratz-Logsted does a good job of balancing these elements. She applies a relatively light touch to the "modern girl stuck in a prior time, with fewer creature comforts" aspect of the story, not letting that dominate. She provides a nuanced view of Jo, perhaps more so than the original book permits (no one sees your flaws like a competitive younger sister, after all). And she keeps the "how does this all work exactly" elements a lively thread throughout the book, but one that doesn't dominate the focus on the March family.
Little Women and Me is not going to be for everyone - it's a bit too quirky and episodic for that. But for fans of Little Women (particularly if they also enjoy modern YA fiction) for whom the idea of entering into (and possibly changing) the world of the March sisters sounds appealing, Little Women and Me is well worth a look. Highly memorable, too. I'll never look at Little Women (and one March sister in particular) quite the same way again.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: November 8, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).