So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix by Bethany C. Morrow
Summary: North Carolina, 1863. As the American Civil War rages on, the Freedmen’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.
My Thoughts: This book grabbed my heart and won’t let go. I’ve been thinking about it for months and I appreciate so much about it. Bethany C. Morrow has done many things through this remix. She’s told a wonderful story of family and love, but she also uses the text to interrogate Alcott’s original work and the canon in general. Why do Little Women and the many novels like it take up so much space in the literary world of the U.S.? Why is this particular book chosen over and over to be retold in books and on screen? Why do we call the original work historical fiction when myths are there, but very little actual history? I haven’t seen the final version, but in the advance copy, two characters have a discussion about how stories and histories are ranked and decisions are made of which deserve to be read and remembered. Readers are reminded to question what they believe to be true, what narratives are valued, and why these things matter. This questioning may be found throughout the story, but it feels natural and not preachy.
With a remix, I would imagine most readers are curious as to how it compares to the first book. The most obvious similarity to the original is the presence of four sisters and their immense love for each other. For those familiar with Little Women, there are also other noticeable parallels, but it really is a completely new story with a different setting that may be a surprise to many readers. Much of the story takes place in a colony on Roanoke Island. This is a bit of history that was not mentioned in my public school education. During the Civil War there were formerly enslaved people who came to take refuge with the Union troops that were located on the island. The people were referred to as contraband. That naming is immediately something to make a person stop and think about what the Union actually thought about Black people. Roanoke’s existence is just one example of the many ways that people and events have been erased in the U.S. Some readers may even wonder if the author has written an alternative history, but that’s because our mythology is so entrenched in popular culture that many people see the truth as fiction and fiction as truth.
This setting is a key part of the novel. Morrow brings the Roanoke to life with sights, sounds, and even smells. The setting is incredibly detailed and the story revolves around why they are there, what they are accomplishing in the colony, and the future hopes for their community.
Morrow also reveals the racism that is embedded in the cultures of both the north and the south. One is more hidden than the other, but both cause harm. Most northerners seem blind to it though. One scene stood out to me when a white character is revealing their prejudice, and as her realization dawns, this person becomes incredibly uncomfortable. White people being uncomfortable had usually been something to avoid, but in this case, nobody jumps in to smooth everything over. This woman from the north who likely sees herself as an ally, gets to sit in her discomfort. Race is a major factor in the book, but how could it not be given the time in U.S. history? That’s a question to ask of Alcott.
Finally, I adored the young women. Without giving too much away, just know that Jo actually gets to be Jo in this book and doesn’t have to bend herself to fit into the mold of the supposed ideal woman. This made my heart so happy.
Recommendation: Get it as soon as you can especially if you enjoy historical fiction. It’s an amazingly well done story, but also gives readers so much to think about regarding literature, authorship, the canon, race, societal values, and more.
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: September 7, 2021
Extra: Bethany C. Morrow on the Book Dreams Podcast