by Louisa May Alcott
read by Barbara Caruso
My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Classic children’s/YA coming of age
This is another classic that I had never read before, but have seen a movie or other adaptation of more than once in the past. In this case, I’ve only seen the 1994 movie with Winona Ryder as Jo, though I have seen it more than once over the years. I also did read the Great Illustrated Classic adaptation with my daughter just over a year ago, but this was my first time reading the full, unabridged version, technically listening to the audiobook. Be aware, there will be spoilers in this review, so read on at your own risk.
One of the things that struck me the most about the full story is how much these sisters thrive in their environment. This is a time period where women are oppressed and kept in their place, and while at some times this makes tomboy Jo unhappy, she doesn’t have to completely rebel in order to make some inroads and even do what she wants to do. In fact, most of what gets in her way as a writer is her own ideas, plans, hopes, dreams, failings, and attempts to be a better person. In modern times, we if we want to write historical fiction where women aren’t just stuck in a box, they are often wild and outrageous (but at least they manage to meet that one man who’s okay with the woman who refuses to wear a dress or attend any formal functions). I think that’s one of the biggest things I love about Jo.
I also really like the fact that most of the way through the story, the March sisters are striving to better themselves. They are quite poor, but vow to be happy with what they have and avoid grumbling, even as they allow themselves hopes for the future in which they find wealth in one way or the other (different for each girl). And though I speak generally, Beth is usually perfectly content with what she has. Speaking of Beth, how well did I relate to that quiet, shy girl. Even too scared to go to the neighbor’s house who’d extended an open invitation so she could exercise her talent on his piano…that would definitely be me.
I loved the references made to Pilgrim’s Progress in the first half of the book, which plays a lot into what I mentioned above, about the sisters trying to be happy with what they have and be good “pilgrims.” I’ve never read Pilgrim’s Progress, though I’ve always thought I should (tried once, but I’m really not good at sticking with books that are hard to read), and now I wish I had. The reference back to the pilgrims and the game the sisters played when they were younger, shortly before Beth’s death, made the tragedy of her death all the more emotional to me.
On probably the most disputed point of this book, though I never lamented over the fact that Jo rebuffed Laurie, it did always seem strange to me that he ended up marrying little Amy. However, after reading this book, I think Louisa May Alcott did a fine job setting up the ways the various romances went. I could certainly see that Jo had no romantic feelings for Laurie and had good reason to think that they wouldn’t have a very pleasant marriage. And when Amy was still young, a connection grew between her and Laurie that paved the way for their love later. Jo’s feelings for Professor Bhaer came very naturally, and it was easy to see why she fell in love with this mature man of integrity and morals.
Before I wrap up, I want to say a few words about Barbara Caruso, the narrator of the audiobook I listened to. I haven’t listened to many audiobooks and can really only listen to certain types of books that way, since my mind tends to miss details if I’m not careful. Also, like many others I’m sure, the narrator can really make or break my enjoyment, and I’ve discovered that I’m really picky about it. Which is why I’m really glad that this is the narrator I listened to for this book, because she did a fantastic job! I really liked how she brought the characters to life and even managed to have slight differences between the sisters. Her reading of foreign words or sentences (French and German) and accents for characters like the German Bhaer are incredible. I will definitely look for her when I listen to other books that she has narrated.
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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!