Modern women have much to learn from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, or so Donnelly seeks to prove in a debut novel that contrasts the contemporary Atwater sisters with distant ancestors Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. The present-day Atwater clan consists of sensible oldest sister Emma, smart-mouthed middle sister Lulu, and aspiring actress Sophie, the perky youngest. As the novel opens, Emma prepares for her wedding; Lulu feels adrift; and Sophie moves in with Lulu and her roommate, Charlie, a young woman the Atwaters regard as one of their own. Lulu finds her great-great-grandma Jo's correspondences in the attic, revealing numerous similarities between the Marches and the Atwaters. Like the Marches, the Atwater girls are independent yet eager for love, vivacious yet genteel, and letters written 150 years ago begin to inform Lulu's life today. Donnelly's novel is much the same, though it occasionally loses focus. Actually, Donnelly is at her best when she abandons Alcottian gentility to describe Sophie's appearance on a TV melodrama. Donnelly's light, spirited tale about modern women with old-fashioned values benefits from its colorful Islington, London, locale. (June)
Donnelly's (The Girl in the Photograph) latest chronicles the lives of the descendants of Louisa May Alcott's March family. Specifically, Donnelly explores what the great-great-granddaughters of the dynamic Jo would be like. Sisters Emma, Lulu, and Sophie are all as different as can be, but they struggle equally to determine what types of lives they want. Lulu in particular feels she doesn't have the same luck in love as her older sister, Emma, nor the same direction for a career as her younger one. When Lulu stumbles upon the letters of Jo March, a new world that is different in time but similar in its themes is revealed to her as well as a kinship to the relative she never met. VERDICT Donnelly starts with a great premise, but readers have to keep track of lots of characters. The dialog and plot are sometimes slowed by contrived transitions. Still, fans of Little Women may enjoy this reinterpretation.—Anne M. Miskewitch, Chicago P.L.
British-born Donnelly's first novel, payback for all the Americans rewriting Jane Austen, concerns a present-day London family with three sisters descended from and living adventures parallel to the eponymous Alcott heroines.
As Lulu Atwater reads a stash of Jo March's (disappointingly dull) letters she's discovered in her mother's attic, the parallels Donnelly makes between the Atwater and March families are not subtle. Instead of Marmee as mother, there's warm and loving Fee, a family therapist originally from Boston and the great-great granddaughter of Jo Bhaer (nee March). Fee's husband David, who publishes travel books, is a genial but frequently absent father. Like Meg March, responsible oldest daughter Emma is engaged to a nice young man, and like Amy March, effervescent youngest daughter Sophie, an aspiring actress, is slightly spoiled but ultimately lovable. Lulu, the brainy middle daughter, is unsettled, unpredictable and outspoken. With no dying fourth sister—although Sophie has a bout of food poisoning—and no serious financial strain (or even awareness of a civil war being fought, say in Afghanistan), the Atwater family adventures lack the gravitas of the Marches'. Offered a great professional opportunity in North Dakota, Emma's fiancé sensitively lets her decide whether the benefit to his career is worth leaving London and her career; despite the Atwaters' half-baked avowals of feminism, she decides it is. When Sophie stands up to snobby Bostonian Aunt Amy and her prejudice against Irish Catholics (as exotic as this novel gets), Aunt Amy likes her spunk and introduces her to an important theatrical producer. Fee and David hit a rocky spot in their marriage but quickly act to rekindle their romance. No Jo March, Lulu finally discovers her passions: for cooking as a career and for a hunky true love. Plenty of sitcom-ready moments occur, like Sophie accidentally brushing her teeth with hair conditioner and Emma buying shoes she can't afford.
The Atwaters are amiable in small doses, but Alcott fans will find this chick lit's superficial relationship to the sneakily subversiveLittle Womeninsulting.
…Gabrielle Donnelly's novel could be just the perfect pool-side read.
The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"Marvelously entertaining, Gabrielle Donnelly's THE LITTLE WOMEN LETTERS evokes the spirit of Louisa May Alcott's LITTLE WOMEN with warmth and affection. I thoroughly enjoyed every word of this wonderful book." —Jennifer Chiaverini, author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts novels
“Gabrielle Donnelly's THE LITTLE WOMEN LETTERS radiates a rare warmth and charm that had me smiling from beginning to end. The characters absolutely live, and the story is utterly compelling. I quite simply love Donnelly's voice!” -Santa Montefiore, author of The French Gardener and The Mermaid Garden
“Witty, warm, and bubbling over with voice, The Little Women Letters is a love letter to and from a set of unforgettable heroines. Gabrielle Donnelly's homage is just what a literary tribute should be: full of compassion, heart, and fun.” - - Erin Blakemore, author of The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder
"A sheer delight, full of gentle humor and homespun wisdom." Katie Fforde, author of Love Letters
"Gabrielle Donnelly's absorbing novel sweeps you across time and generations of family, bound together through love and the strife and joys of daily life. A refreshingly hopeful story that grips you so thoroughly you'll want to lock your door and read, read, read!" Carol Cassella, author of Healer and Oxygen
"I LOVED this book - it was like a personal treasure trove. The letters sound just exactly as if Jo had written them, and isn't it what we'd always wanted and thought we could never have - more of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy?" Penny Vincenzi, author of The Best of Times
“[A] light, spirited tale about modern women with old-fashioned values.” Publishers Weekly
“Donnelly’s The Little Women Letters imagines how modern versions of the March sisters might have lived. . . . Donnelly writes with obvious passion for the classic take and successfully applies a fresh sensibility to the three modern sisters. Nostalgic without being deferential, jocular without being flippant…Beautifully crafted.” Booklist
“Could be just the perfect pool-side read.” The Washington Post
“For those who yearn for the verve and wit and chagrin of Alcott, ‘The Little Women Letters’ offers a thoroughly modern . . . twist.” Seattle Times