Book Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

by Kelly O’Connor McNees

Amy Einhorn Books

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

April, 2010

My Rating: A+

When I was a girl, Little Women was a favorite among my friends and I. We read it numerous times. We talked endlessly about the Marsh family and their activities. We play-acted portions of the book. Yes, we were obsessed.

We were convinced that Jo was, in truth, Louisa May Alcott. We speculated for hours about what really happened between Jo and Laurie.

It’s too bad we didn’t have The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott back then. It’s as if the author heard our speculations. Actually, I believe she was speculating too. Kelly McNees took some of her speculations and, what I’m sure was lots of research, and turned them into the perfect sequel to Little Women.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is the fictional story of what could have happened to Louisa Alcott in 1855. During that summer Louisa, her parents, and her three sisters moved from Boston to the little town of Walpole. Louisa’s plan was to help her family settle in and then return to Boston to write her stories and pursue her goal of independence. Contrary to the expectations for women of the time, Louisa longed to be a spinster and to be free to live life on her own terms.

Louisa’s goal was tested in Walpole when she met Joseph, a young man who was different from other men she knew. They liked the same literature, they were equals in intellectual debates and, best of all, Joseph truly understood Louisa. Louisa was torn between her growing love for Joseph and her goals and ambitions.

This story gives us an inside look at the marriage of Louisa’s parents and why Louisa developed her determination to remain single. It paints a very negative picture of Louisa’s father, Bronson Alcott and in turn the role of a wife as seen in Louisa’s mother. Bronson Alcott believed that he was above work, thus forcing his family to live a life of “genteel poverty.” It put an enormous strain on his wife and daughters.

In addition to an everyday look at the Alcott family life, this novel features some of the activities enjoyed by young people during this time period. We see a swimming party with typical swimwear, a trip to the circus, and the staging of an amateur play. There were happy times as well as heartbreaking tragedies in Walpole that summer.

More than anything else, I enjoyed the characters in The Lost Summer. Louisa was complicated but believable. I loved her older sister Anna and of course, Joseph. I thoroughly disliked Louisa’s father which should tell you how well developed the character was.

I understand this is the first novel for Ms. McNees. I’m very surprised, as the story feels like that of an experienced novelist. A nice bonus was the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Each one comes from the writings of Miss Alcott.

So, for all my friends, childhood and otherwise, who share my love of Little Women and other of Louisa May Alcott’s stories, I recommend this book with the hightest praise. It’s so very well done.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book. For other stops on the tour please visit here.

Challenges: This story speaks volumes about the treatment of women and is an excellent read for the Women Unbound Challenge. Published under the imprint of Amy Einhorn, this book also qualifies for the Amy Einhorn Challenge.

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20 Responses to Book Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

  1. BooksPlease says:

    I adored Alcott’s books and read them many times over. Thinking about them gives such a glow of pleasure and nostalgia. I’m scared to reread them in case that pleasure goes, so this sounds a good book to read instead – lovely review.

  2. JoAnn says:

    This needs to go on my wish list!!

  3. It sounds like with A+ you definitely liked this one!

  4. Barbara says:

    We watched the movie, “Little Women,” just a couple weeks ago. It ties right in with this book supposing that Jo and Laurie were best buddies and he finally realized it. In the movie she was very happy for him and Amy when they married. Meanwhile she had fallen in love with the man she met in the city.

    I too loved Little Women as a child and fancied myself to be Jo. I still have my book, although it’s a little the worse for wear now.

  5. I still love Little Women, so I’m really excited about this book! I’m so glad you loved it so much and now I can’t wait to read it.

  6. Beth F says:

    I had to skim your review because I have mine to write yet. I loved Little Women.

  7. Bumbles says:

    Andy is from Walpole. His family still lives there. Pretty little suburbian town. About 20 minutes from our house. But in truth I don’t believe the Alcotts ever lived there if I recall correctly from our visit to Orchard House in Concord.

    Did you ever read March? That is the fictionalized view of the father from Little Women’s time away at war. It was really good.

    In reality, Louisa and her father had a challenging relationship when she was a child but as adults they were very close to each other. He had lots of grand ideas about education that were too forward thinking for the time and he kept putting his family in times of poverty. His wife almost left him behind at the commune he had created – but he realized the direness of the situation with his family and went back to more traditional communities. The family lived off of the kindness of friends and neighbors much of the time and Louisa’s writing helped to get them out of financial trouobles. Her sister taught art lessons in their home – including to the man who ended up creating the Lincoln Memorial. They were a fascinating family.

  8. Thank you all for your enthusiasm and wonderful comments about Little Women and the Alcotts. It’s so exciting for me to connect with readers this way.

    Bumbles is exactly right about the Alcott girls’ difficult childhood. Bronson resisted conventional work and the family suffered because of it. Abba (Abigail Alcott) often was saddled with more than her share of work and worry; and yet Bronson believed in education for women, a radical notion that opened opportunities for his daughters, opportunities they would not have had if they’d been born to a more conventional father. Indeed, the relationship between Louisa and Bronson was complex and continued to be so right up until his death. Interestingly, she died the very next day.

    The Alcotts lived in Walpole, NH in 1855-1856. Abba’s brother-in-law took pity on them when they could not afford the rent in Concord and offered his Walpole house rent-free for a time. We don’t know much about what Louisa did over this summer, making it the perfect time to set a novel about her young life! In the fall she went on to Boston and began writing stories that would be published and eventually allow her the independence from sewing and teaching she needed to write full time.

    Again, many thanks for your interest and I hope to have the chance to meet you all somewhere along the way! Best wishes.

  9. I just finished the biography “The Woman Behind Little Women” which I enjoyed a lot; sounds like this would be a great companion piece — I’ll look for it. All the same reasons as you mention!

    Congratulations on the read-a-thon finish! And on being awake enough today to poat! You did great. I glanced at your updates, but didn’t have time to reply, as Bill was using the ‘puter most of the weekend. Boring business stuff ;>)

  10. kaye says:

    I totally agree–I love little women. Love the cover picture you posted.

  11. kaye says:

    and I forgot to say–I’m totally adding that book to my tbr. I also enjoyed Jo’s boys and I read another by Louisa May Alcott titled “A Long Fatal Love Chase”. I wouldn’t mind reading a few more of her books.

  12. Ti says:

    I really enjoyed this one too. The characters seemed so well-drawn. The word “delightful” kept coming to mind.

  13. I didn’t read your review Margot because I don’t want to be influenced yet about this book, but I did check out your grade and I’m so excited to see that you loved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ll be back to read it from beginning to end once I’ve finished it and posted my review!!

  14. Stacy says:

    I’ve heard nothing but good things about this one, but an A+ is the best recommendation yet.

  15. This IS a wonderful imagining, isn’t it Margot?! Kelly O’Connor McNees developed her characters so fully that a reader unfamiliar with Bronson’s life philosophies and the demeanor of the various family members is bound to learn some facts along with the fiction.

    Bumbles is correct that Bronson Alcott was ahead of his time in his thoughts on education. Not only did he advocate educating women, he practiced what we would today call a ‘whole language’ approach. He got down and interacted with his students, rather than subject them to rote learning.

    Great review for THE LOST SUMMER OF LMA! … like you, I’m looking forward to more from this author.

  16. trish says:

    Yay! I’m so glad you loved it! I love that you and your friends speculated that Jo was actually Louisa. Very insightful of you. 🙂

    I love the details that got slipped in that really immerse you in the time period but just seem so natural. You mentioned the circus and the swimming party, and I agree that they give you a great feel for what people actually did in their free time.

    Thanks for being on this tour! I love your enthusiasm. 🙂

  17. Pingback: Kelly O’Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, on tour April 2010 | TLC Book Tours

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  20. Dianne says:

    Louisa May Alcott’s stories encouraged my love of reading. Would love this book

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