So Much Better Than the First One

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So Many Beginnings, a Remixed Classic based on Louisa Mae Alcott's Little Women, is such an important book. Bethany C. Morrow has taken the basic Civil War Era story of four sisters and mother (father in the Union Army) and set it firmly, but gently, in the lives of a Black family living in the Freedmen's Colony on Roanoke Island. Writing for young adults, mainly, Morrow does not shy from the cruel realities of Black oppression when they were enslaved – and the still-cruel, but less violent oppression of Black people by the Northern Whites whose stereotyping and advantage-taking permeates Roanoke Island. But the realities and revelations are woven into the stories of the four very different young women.

Some readers see Little Women as a novel promoting individuality and “vocation.” Two of the March sisters work to bring money into the impoverished family, and, of course, each sister is different from the others – and accepted for her developing identity. So, too, So Many Beginnings shows its readers a group of people, women and men, “beginning” new lives, growing into adulthood. Each an individual with a strong self-concept.

And the females in this novel are so wise! I wanted to mock the discussions and mini-lectures that go on in the March family (as I did when I read Little Women), but every time a new passage came along, I found myself reading and almost trying to memorize the words because of how emotionally perceptive and compassionate it was. An early, simple example is an exchange between Amy and Meg. Meg tells Amy not to pout because it's unbecoming. Amy asks, “And who have I got to be becoming for?” To which Amy replies, “For yourself, of course.”

Alcott was asked to write a story for young women, and she did so to bring in money to her family. She modeled the characters and dynamics on her own family. In taking on this story's structure, Morrow has let her extensive research and her own experiences flesh out the characters and their environment. Although this comes from a Northern woman steeped in prejudice, about Jo's story of her own life, the woman says, ”You are so skilled at juxtaposing the beauty of your family against the heinous nature of enslavement.” And this is what Morrow has accomplished with the March family.

I received a copy of this book from Fiewel and Friends publishers via Bookish. This is an honest review.