The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

( 30 )


A richly imagined, remarkably written story of the woman who created Little Women- and how love changed her in ways she never expected.

Deftly mixing fact and fiction, Kelly O'Connor McNees returns to the summer of 1855, when vivacious Louisa May Alcott is twenty-two and bursting to free herself from family and societal constraints and do what she loves most. Stuck in small-town New Hampshire, she meets Joseph Singer, and as she opens her heart, Louisa finds herself torn between...

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The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

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A richly imagined, remarkably written story of the woman who created Little Women- and how love changed her in ways she never expected.

Deftly mixing fact and fiction, Kelly O'Connor McNees returns to the summer of 1855, when vivacious Louisa May Alcott is twenty-two and bursting to free herself from family and societal constraints and do what she loves most. Stuck in small-town New Hampshire, she meets Joseph Singer, and as she opens her heart, Louisa finds herself torn between a love that takes her by surprise and her dream of independence as a writer in Boston. The choice she must make comes with a steep price that she will pay for the rest of her life.

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  • Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
    Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott  

Editorial Reviews

Carrie Brown
McNees gets the period details just right: the crinolines and carriages; the spare, aesthetic plainness of 19th-century New England. And although the love affair with Joseph is invented, she remains faithful to the broad outlines of Alcott's biography. In fact, The Lost Summer is the kind of romantic tale to which Alcott herself was partial, one in which love is important but not a solution to life's difficulties. Devotees of Little Women will flock to this story with pleasure.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
McNees lightly imagines the life of Louisa May Alcott, whose Little Women has enjoyed generations-long success. The story begins with a 20-year-old Louisa unhappily moving with her family from Boston to Walpole, N.H., where her Transcendentalist philosopher father pursues a life sans material pleasure. Louisa, meanwhile, plans on saving enough money to return to Boston and pursue a career as a writer. Then she meets the handsome and charming Joseph Singer, who stirs up strong emotions in Louisa. Not wanting to admit that she is attracted to him, Louisa responds to Joseph with defensiveness and anger until, of course, she can no longer deny her feelings and becomes torn between her desires and her dreams. While certainly charming, the simply told, straightforward narrative reads like YA fiction. It'll do the trick as a pleasant diversion for readers with fond memories of Alcott's work, but the lack of gravity prevents it from becoming anything greater. (Apr.)
Library Journal
In her debut novel, McNees ( blends fact and fiction to imagine an 1855 summer in the life of a then-20-year-old Louisa May Alcott that would change the course of Alcott's career and inform her later writing of Little Women. (Toward the end of her life, Alcott burned many of her letters and asked her correspondents to do the same, so what really happened that summer is lost to history.) The author portrays Alcott as an intelligent young woman whose strong sense of family loyalty interferes with her fierce desire for independence. Actress/singer/narrator Emily Janice Card reads with an earnestness befitting Louisa's character. A good choice for public libraries and YA collections. ["Fans of Little Women may be first in line to read the novel," read the review of the Amy Einhorn: Putnam hc, "but the book will also appeal to others who enjoy historical romance," LJ Xpress Review, 4/23/10.—Ed.]—Nann Blaine Hilyard, Zion-Benton P.L., IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425240830
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/3/2011
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 408,970
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Kelly O'Connor McNees is a former editorial assistant and English teacher. Originally from Michigan, she now resides with her husband in Chicago.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 30 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Wonderful Treasure

    In The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, we are introduced to a 22 year old Louisa, who is moving to Walpole, New Hampshire with her family due to financial difficulties. While there Louisa struggles with the desire to be a writer and duty to her family. Love and marriage are not options she is willing to consider. She would like nothing more than to go to Boston, live alone and be a writer. Then she meets Joseph Singer. Louisa finds herself smitten and confused. Is there room for love, family and writing?

    Kelly O'Connor McNees captures the essence of the Alcott family beautifully. I felt that the way the family was depicted was in line with things I have read or seen about the Alcott family. Louisa was just a I had imagined her to be and reminded me of Jo in Little Women. I enjoyed this book immensely! I can't recommend it enough. Just like when I read Little Women as a young girl, I didn't want this story to end! I'm looking forward to seeing what Kelly O'Connor McNees writes next.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    A Charming and Bittersweet Answer

    Kelly McNees has produced a well-written and charming fictional answer to the question that many readers of Alcott's Little Women have posed as they turned the last page --"Why Louisa--why not write the fairytale ending with the boy next door?"
    Set in pre-Civil War New England McNees imagines just what events and aspirations may have made a young Louisa May Alcott pick a non-traditional role and turn into the writer and adult she became.
    McNees' well researched story brings to life the real Little Women --Louisa and her sisters in a lost summer. Descriptions of the Alcott's village social life, household demands, their impoverishment and Louisa's struggles to follow a writing career allow the reader to be immersed in this lovely and lovingly written bittersweet story.

    The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is an old-fashioned romance that makes the reader ponder modern day questions. Discussions of Marmee's role, Bronson's avoidance of family responsibilities to follow his Transcendental beliefs, and Louisa's career choices would make great topics for book clubs.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 18, 2010

    A wonderful novel.

    "The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott" is well written and expertly paced: a lovely book from beginning to end. Fans of historical fiction will be thrilled with the exquisite details that pop up throughout this debut novel, and followers of Louisa May Alcott will feel as if they are discovering a new side to an old, dear friend. Anyone who loves a good story will find that they simply can't put this book down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott has all of the charm of Little Women. The strong family dynamic is present as well as the promise of true love. A well-told story that's a pleasure to read.

    In 1855, the Alcott family moved to Walpole, New Hampshire. Not much is known about the real-life Alcotts but McNees chooses this time period to tell the tale of young Louisa. Strong-willed and stubborn, she has a strong sense of family and an even stronger sense of pride. Determined to be a serious writer, she has no time for romance but when she meets Joseph Singer, she can't quite explain the feelings that she has for him. Is it possible for a woman to have a career and a relationship without losing her sense of self?

    I feel that it's important to note that I have not read Little Women in its entirety. I started it ages ago and loved every bit of it, but then got sidetracked and never picked it up again. If my memory serves me, I got through about half of it, but it was enough for me to fall in love with the characters. I felt the same way about The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. Although parts of it do include a bit of historical fact, it is a fictional tale of the family that inspired Little Women and I feel that it had the same feel as the classic that we've all come to love.

    I know there are some hardcore fans of Little Women who'll dig deep to find fault with this book, but there's really no need for it. As I was reading, I could tell that McNees adores the classic as much as the next reader (if not more) and the care she takes to breathe life into Louisa is genuine and well thought out. I adored Louisa and all of her sisters and although her parents proved to be frustrating at times, especially her father, I could literally see them upon the page.

    The other part that I enjoyed quite a bit were all the literary references. I could easily see Louisa sitting in her room, reading Dickens. This is the type of book that book lovers love. It reads well, it includes characters that we already love, and it makes the classic even more appealing.

    I do not feel that you need to read Little Women prior to reading TLSOLMA, but after reading this book, I now feel that I must finish Little Women.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    for Little Women lovers

    Kelly O'Connor McNees will garner great praise for her book describing the life of Louisa May Alcott. The hypothetical affair in the life of a mysterious and well-loved author is intriguing and well-drawn. I was impressed with the research done and the style of writing similar to Alcott's own.

    LMA's self-absorbed philosophical father infuriated me, but we all love to be angry with a character. The relationships between the sisters I found particularly touching. As in Little Women, the putting on of plays was an important part of their discovery of themselves and the world.

    The outward appearance of a book does matter, and in this case, deserves recognition. Not only is the cover beautiful and intriguing with the image of an old worn book, but the pages are thick and luxurious on the fingertips. I felt like I was back in the 19th century reading Alcott's new novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Courtesy of Mother Daughter Book

    Louisa May Alcott is one of the most beloved literary figures in American history. Her book Little Women, has never been out of circulation, and it's been adapted for the screen and stage many times. As Little Women is widely known to be somewhat autobiographical, it's easy for readers to feel they know Louisa May as well as they know Jo, her fictional counterpart.

    I would expect this familiarity would make writing a novel about Louisa and her real family daunting, especially for first-time novelists. But I'm glad that author Kelly O'Connor McNees took up that challenge when creating The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. The book is full of enough facts about Louisa's real life to make her situation come alive for readers, but those facts are woven into the story well enough that they remain interesting instead of becoming a boring list forced into a story line.

    We see Louisa as a real women influenced by her own upbringing to reject romance and marriage for herself. We see the struggles she faced when deciding between accepting the reality of love freely offered to her and pursuing her dream of being a writer. Married women in Louisa's time were mostly relegated to a life of drudgery and endless chores. Few had the option of pursuing anything other than domestic pursuits. Even those who by necessity worked, usually earned their money through sewing or teaching or cleaning.

    Louisa's father plays a prominent role in the book, as he did in her life. His unwillingness to earn money affected the whole household, making the family dependent upon friends and relatives for their support. It's no wonder that Louisa developed a fierce drive to make money from her writing so she would not be forced into the same situation during her adult life.

    Since we all know the real Louisa May Alcott never married, it's no surprise how her romance in this book will end. But McNees weaves her words so well that you want to keep turning pages anyway, hoping against hope that the outcome will be different than you know it to be. The resolution, when it comes, feels true to Louisa, and satisfying to the reader as well.

    Mother-daughter book club members who read The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott will have a lot to discuss including the writer herself, constraints on women of her time and family relationships. Also interesting to discuss will be how men of the times were just as constrained in many ways by the expectations of society. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 15 and up.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 29, 2010

    Great Read for Alcott Lovers

    Kelly O'Connor McNees transports us to 19th-century New England in "The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott". There, we glimpse a fictional, yet possible summer romance Louisa could have enjoyed. Readers will be happy to imagine Louisa and her fictional beau discussing the revolutionary poetry of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass". Those that have admired this author for many years, will wish that she actually experienced the passion of a summer love.
    While the novel entertains us with the couple's romance, it also gives us a further insight into Louisa's struggle with her career aspirations, her family obligations and the standards of society in her time. While love can set her spirit afire, it does not solve all Louisa's dilemmas.
    McNees does do justice to period details of dress, decor and New England's 19th-century society. She also gives us more depth of character with Louisa's parents and sisters. We see how some of Bronson Alcott's unconventional thinking and lifestyle choices bring hardship to his family. Bonds of love and loyalty were ever strong in this family through the good and bad times.
    Readers of Louisa May Alcott's works will enjoy this window into a beloved author's world.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A companion for LITTLE WOMEN

    Most women can recall with fondness reading Louisa May Alcott's Little Women when we were girls. I can still see the cover of my book: chocolate brown, with a color illustration of the March girls. Little Women was one of the first books I can remember reading that gave me a sense that female relationships were important, and that is was OK to be whomever you were.

    Kelly O'Connor NcNees has taken the life of Louisa May Alcott and reimagined a pivotal period of her life in this historical novel The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. All of the sisters are there, and McNees is clearly inspired by the style of Alcott, as in this passage describing sister Anna.
    Anna practiced compassion like an art form. She knew how to apply it with a delicate hand, knew its gradations and nuances, could distinguish its authentic form from imposters like sympathy and voyeurism. It came naturally to her, almost like a physical impulse.
    The writing here is exquisite.

    The summer recounted in this novel is the one in which Louisa meets and falls in love with Joseph, a young shopkeeper. While I enjoyed the story of the Alcott family, I felt that the book really captured me when Joseph and Louisa's love started to bloom. This is ironic, given that when I was a young girl, I liked the March sisters' story much more than the romantic Jo/Laurie storyline. Maybe it is a factor of age?

    It is interesting comparing the fiction of Little Women, which was based on Alcott's own family, with the historical fiction of the Alcott family in Lost Summer. McNees did a lot of research, read many biographies of Alcott, and I enjoyed how she weaved biographical information, historical information (such as the publication of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass) with her fiction of Alcott's life.

    During a recent online chat with the author, much discussion arose about the father figure in the story. Louisa's father Bronson was a philosopher, and working for living to provide for his family was not something he was inclined to do. He believed that working for pay violated his conscience. He seemed to leave it to his wife and daughters to provide physically for the family so that he could live according to his beliefs.

    Some bloggers felt that he was shirking his responsibilities, yet he was willing to live off the efforts of his wife and daughters. Others felt that he was living up to ideals. I fell into the camp that he was irresponsible, and it was hard to respect him. How can an able-bodied man sit in his study and read while his wife and children do the hard labor? Louisa questioned this as well.

    If you have teen girls in your family, Little Women and The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott would make a great gift for them. Reading Lost Summer sent me to my Kindle to download a free copy of Little Women and remembering the summer I spent reading it on my porch.

    This is another Amy Einhorn book, and again she has found another wonderful voice in McNees. I give it four stars.

    Thanks to Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin? ( TLC Blog Tours for providing a copy of the book for review.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 10, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Summer in New Hampshire

    In summer 1855, the Alcotts are on the move again, this time to Walpole, NH, where an uncle has kindly given them use of his empty house. It's tough to separate oneself from the story of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy--many of the events that we have come to know from Little Women make small appearances here and there in this story. I was really interested in McNees' take on Bronson Alcott, the trancendentalist. His views on life and what one truly needed for sustenance didn't always mesh with what a family with four children would need. I really enjoyed spending a summer with Anna, Louisa, Lizzie and young May. McNees has writtten a really nice piece of historical fiction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2014

    Absolutely loved it!

    Could there have been a real-life inspiration for Laurie in Louisa May Alcott's most famous novel Little Women? This book makes a compelling argument. I just loved the way the author of this book took liberties while staying true to the books and author we've loved for years. Now, would she consider doing a "lost" period of L.M. Montgomery or Laura Ingalls Wilder?? :)

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  • Posted June 1, 2014

    Revisiting Louisa Mae Alcott

    JoAn W. Martin
    2407 Kilgore Rd.
    Baytown, TX 77520
    281 427-2713

    McNees, Kelly O’Connor. The Lost Summer of Louisa Mae Alcott. E Book. Penguin Group. 2010. 235 pages. e ISBN: 978-1-101-18620-6

    Financial woes had forced Louisa Mae Alcott’s family to leave their transcendental friends in Concord: Emerson, Thoreau, and Longfellow. They borrowed a small house in Walcott, New Hampshire. Since her father, Bronson had not earned a regular income in years, they were beholden to their family and friends. Bronson believed that “a penchant for lace and silk revealed a weakness in one’s character” so his lofty airs did not allow him to consider economic affairs. Working for “filthy lucre” was beneath him, but he certainly accepted what little the four daughters and his wife, Abba, contributed from their part-time work.

    Twenty-two-year-old Louisa cared little for fluffy dresses, leather shoes, jewels or bonnets. The very idea of marriage was repugnant to her, considering how hard her mother worked to keep her family housed, fed, clothed, and healthy. Her father’s charity extended to everyone except his family.

    The Alcott girls had more spirit than the pious girls of Walpole and became popular with the boys. Louisa tried to avoid Joseph Singer since she wanted to spend what little free time she had on writing. But she and Joseph had so much in common. They found their relationship on the pages of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass which she had to read secretly since her father would never approve. She longed to move to Boston and make a living from publishing her stories. She yearned for nothing more than to have ink and a stack of paper to write sentences on the page.

    Kelly O’Connor McNees mixes fact with fiction. When she read Louisa biography, she felt compelled to search out every biography. She noticed something strange. Every bio portrayed her differently. Louisa Mae Alcott destroyed letters and much of her early writing, trying to make sure that her life and family were not exploited. She had always wanted to write a novel and began mountains of research into Louisa’s life. Although rooted in fact, she took plenty of liberties. She investigated the way the Alcott family lived – their lack of basic necessities, their food choices, their clothing, and their social life.

    All her life Louisa wondered why God had given her a talent for writing if she was to only cook and wash clothes. Like Jo in “Little Women,” “the home nest was growing too narrow for her restless nature.” After she wrote “Little Women,” based on her own family, she became a celebrity all over the world, but she lost much of her privacy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2012

    Love it!!!

    This is a great read for anyone who loves L M A :)

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  • Posted May 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I really liked this book!

    I spent a lot of time in my pre-teen years in love with the writing of Louisa May Alcott. Little Women was and still is a favorite of mine. I wanted to be one of the March girls. In The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O' Conner McNees visits the 'what if ' possibilities of Louisa May Alcott's life. What if Louisa fell in love with a man. Would she be willing to give up everything she dreams about? Can she live by her pen alone? These questions are what lured me into this novel.
    This book takes place in 1855, Louisa and her family move to New Hampshire. Louisa's father, Bronson is a well known transcendentalist. He didn't manage money very well so the Alcott's lived a life of poverty. Louisa is desperate to find her own wings and fly to freedom. She longs to be able to pursue her dreams of becoming a famous writer. She doesn't want anything or anyone holding her back. That is until she meets Joseph Singer. Joseph is a small town boy who is handsome, kind and charming. He's quite a catch and he has his sights set on Louisa. Will she be able to refuse him?
    I really enjoyed this story from beginning to end. Kelly O'Conner McNees took care to add factual details to this wonderful story. I really liked the way McNees portrayed Louisa's struggles. She was going against the grain of society at this time and it was not easy. She had dreams other than being a wife and a mother. Then she finds someone who understands her, someone whom she can be herself with. Joseph Singer challenges Louisa in ways she didn't expect. He opens up her mind and heart to experiences she never dreamed of. This is a deeply romantic story that I fell in love with. My heart broke with Louisa's as she was forced to make decisions that would change the course of her future.
    Overall this was a great book. This book is fiction, but I would recommend it for fans of Louisa May Alcott. It made me think of Little Women over and over again. I wonder how her life and the fictional life of Jo March paralleled. I though Kelly O'Conner McNees did a fantastic job of giving Louisa May Alcott's life a little romance. Well done.

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  • Posted April 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Bridget's Review

    While reading THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT, I felt like I was transported to the past and living through the book. It was amazing to see what things were like during the 19th century and be entertained all at the same time. I definitely recommend this book to my fellow book-lovers.

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