Published by William Morrow on September 5, 2017
Source: the publisher
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Elise Hooper’s debut novel conjures the fascinating, untold story of May Alcott—Louisa’s youngest sister and an artist in her own right.
We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May.
Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.
Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?
So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I completely loved The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper. In some ways, it was very much like I was expecting, being a book about the “other” woman “behind” someone very famous – I adore those books. In other ways, it surpassed my expectations. I knew going into it that I was getting a story about May Alcott, younger sister of Louisa of Little Women fame, but I had no idea that I was getting such a rich tale of travel, of art, and of May becoming independent in her own right. I wanted to read it quickly, to devour the story, but I forced myself to read it slowly and savor every word.
I’ve been in the camp of people that have loved Little Women so much for my entire life. It is a comfort read for me. I’ve felt a very specific connection to it because my grandmother loved it when she was living and because she gifted me an especially lovely copy that I treasure. Further, I’ve always been intrigued by Alcott family because the story is based on them somewhat, although I’ve never fully known the details of the Alcott family beyond very, very basic knowledge. In a nutshell, the Alcott father was a philospher with some very unconventional views on life and nontraditional ways of living, which caused the Alcott family some hardship financially. This caused Louisa to feel certain pressures as a published author to provide for their entire family, which eventually ultimately alienated May and set her life in motion. The Other Alcott is one historical fiction account of her life, based on the research by the author.
So, a sidenote: did you know that May illustrated Little Women? She did! The Other Alcott opens to Louisa receiving reviews in the mail for Little Women. She receives numerous positive reviews while May receives not-so-positive reviews for her illustrations. This wounds May deeply, because she is every bit as passionate about her art as Louisa is about her writing. This opening scene is wonderful at setting up the complicated relationship between May and Louisa that hounds May throughout her life and throughout the book.
It also wounded May that Louisa chose to base Amy March, the youngest sibling character in the book, on May. I’m not sure that Louisa had the foresight to know how much it would hurt May, but this is something that May carried with her always. In this story, there is so much tension between the two sisters over – gosh – so many things, and I think it may have all stemmed from their creative differences and also competitiveness. Their back-and-forth isn’t the sole focus of the book, but it is often the catalyst for May’s decisions or where she bases herself geographically while she does her work. Their relationship is fascinating and quite a story in how two people relate to one another, and why.
Speaking of May’s work, there is so much art in this book! There are so many of us readers that enjoy art in books, and I was not expecting so much detail and attention to be given to the art part of May’s life. It was awesome! I mean, technique, supplies, other artists that May worked alongside, all types of artsy things. For fans of art in books, The Other Alcott reads like a dream.
The author talks about her specific uses of creative license in the Afterward at the end of the book, and I think that with the level of animosity between Louisa and May in particular, the use of license is something to be remembered when we read and think about this book. I loved reading the sibling dynamic between Louisa and May; I found it real and true and heartbreaking and loving and painful and hard and also very easy, underneath everything because they were sisters. In fact, except for the fact that my sisters and I do not live oceans apart like Louisa and May sometimes did, their relationship was very similar to the one I have with my two sisters. It was in this way that I was able to connect with the book so deeply on that level.
I just loved this book so much. I thought I’d certainly like it a lot, but after finishing it, I completely adore it and have placed it on my top shelf among my other favorites from this year like The Essex Serpent and A Piece of The World. I think it will have a home with readers that love classic childrens literature, readers that love art, and readers that love stories of strong, compelling women.