Meg and Jo by Virginia Kantra. New York: Berkley, 2019, 390 pages.
Since Louisa May Alcott first published Little Women in 1868, the novel has been retold many times. The recent film adaption of the novel has brought this classic back to the forefront and readers will enjoy soaking up more of the March family in Virginia Kantra’s new novel.
Meg and Jo is a modern retelling and as the title suggests, is focused on the lives of Meg and Jo. The March family homestead is now a farmhouse in small-town North Carolina. Marmee stays busy raising goats and selling their cheese at local farmers’ markets. Mr. March has devoted himself to providing counseling to war veterans. Nearby, the always opinionated Aunt March is living in her stately home and the Laurences own and operate a successful car dealership.
Staying close to the family center is Meg, who has her dream life of husband, home, and children. However, as she takes on more of the responsibilities needed to keep her family running, her own interests are continually pushed aside. Off in New York, Jo has lost her job at a newspaper and is now struggling to make ends meet by writing a food blog and working as a prep cook at a restaurant. She begins a relationship with the renowned chef at her work, Eric Bhaer. Perhaps in a typical Jo fashion, she makes decisions that result in losing both the job and the man she is falling for.
Though not central to this novel, Amy and Beth make short appearances. Amy is working in high fashion in Paris and Beth is taking time off from school to pursue a music career. Readers will hopefully be treated to a second volume featuring this half of the March sisters soon.
When Marmee falls ill, the family is left without their anchor. The far-flung sisters return home to nurse their mother and take on the responsibilities needed to keep the family financially afloat. Christmas is approaching, and the holiday spirit is lacking as each sister combats their own struggles.
It is jarring at first to see the March sisters reimagined in a modern setting. However, the 18th century struggles of the women translate quite well to the current day. Readers will relate to Meg and Jo’s journeys of determining their identity and place in the world. Even with the necessary changes to make this a contemporary novel, the reasons why Little Women is considered a beloved classic are present. It is still a heartwarming tale of four sisters who are bound together by love and family.
Amanda Gramley is the Adult Programming Coordinator with the Alamance County Public Libraries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.