Book Review

So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix

So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix

  • Author: Bethany C. Morrow
  • Genre: YA Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: September 7, 2021
  • Publisher: Feiwel Friends

Thank you to BookishFirst for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: mention of slavery, racism, trauma, chronic illness

Rating: 4 out of 5.

1863

As the American Civil War rages on, the Freedpeople’s Colony of Roanoke Island is blossoming, a haven for the recently emancipated. Black people have begun building a community of their own, a refuge from the shadow of the “old life.” It is where the March family has finally been able to safely put down roots with four young daughters:

Meg, a teacher who longs to find love and start a family of her own.

Jo, a writer whose words are too powerful to be contained.

Beth, a talented seamstress searching for a higher purpose.

Amy, a dancer eager to explore life outside her family’s home.

As the four March sisters come into their own as independent young women, they will face first love, health struggles, heartbreak, and new horizons. But they will face it all together.

I have fond memories of reading the original Little Women as a kid, so of course I jumped at the chance to read this remix. What I found was that Bethany C. Morrow has taken the bones of the original tale and put an intriguing new spin on it, with great results. I enjoyed this story much more than I probably would the original, if I were to reread it today.

First of all, the story is incredibly researched. I was motivated to do a little learning during and after my reading, and this book provided so much information about a time period that is completely glossed over in school. My own schooling just kind of told us “and then slavery ended” and left us with a happily ever after assumption, even though that isn’t anything close to the truth. And this book demonstrated that so clearly. 

While I will never be able to understand the impact, the direct trauma, and the lasting intergenerational trauma from slavery, this book provided some insight into how it affected the first generation of freed slaves. There are so many ways in which the lives of the characters were affected, both large and small, and it makes me think that books like this ought to be included as required reading for high school classes. 

“It made walking toward the house feel like foolishness, and that feeling, when they knew that there was no captor here, that they were going to celebrate their own, made them feel as though there were more chains than those the eye could see. It made the oldest among them wonder whether or not freedom was something that could be declared, or whether it would have to be learned and practiced, like one of Meg’s lessons.”

The legacy of slavery affected every aspect of the lives of the characters. I was amazed at how strong and resilient these characters were, and especially loved that Morrow put special emphasis on how not all freed Black people spoke in a stereotypical slave dialect. This was actually a point of conflict at one point in the story. But the characters were so much more than their old lives, and they found ways to allow themselves their joy without feeling bad about it:

“‘We mustn’t feel guilty, either, when we find ourselves laughing. Even in the old life, we confounded our captors with our spirit, with the joy we made together. Not because we approved of our enslavement, but because we are resilient people. We hide light in the darkest place, and when others think embers extinguished, we know how to breathe them back to life.’”

I loved what Morrow did with the four March sisters, building them into well-rounded women with ambitions, hopes, dreams, and unique personalities that contained echoes of the original story but were still distinct. The sibling and family relationships were beautiful, although the father was largely absent from the story (being away helping the Union army). Jo gave off strong asexual vibes, even though it wasn’t stated explicitly, and I love that she found a happy situation. They were so motivated in different ways, and everyone accomplished so much in such a short time. Naturally, this creates issues as well:

“…she had to wonder whether their success wasn’t part of the problem, even for the Union. If there wasn’t something undesirable about how quickly Blacks could accomplish the unexpected, once the chains were removed. She hadn’t thought to worry what impression their triumphs would make, their happiness and productivity, until now.”

Another issue that arose in the story is the tension between freed Black people and the white people. Although some of the white people in the story genuinely meant well, it was clear that they didn’t know how to deal with the changed status of Black people, often thinking that they knew what was best, or using them for their own ends. Even when Beth got sick (with what seemed to be sickle cell disease), the association of white nurses think that she is faking because her symptoms are inconsistent and don’t fit a pattern they are familiar with. 

“Sometimes the old life intruded into her new one in a way she was beginning to suspect it always might, while she had to be so close to white people. While she still had to ask them for things, or depend on what they considered their generosity.”

Overall, the story was great. I personally enjoyed this more than the original. Even the ending felt beautiful, and I easily could have gone on reading this if only it was longer. 

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