Desert Isle Keeper
Beth & Amy
Virginia Kantra’s epic modern retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women continues with Beth & Amy, which follows the developing lives of the March family’s two youngest siblings. I actually liked this volume better than its predecessor, and quite enjoyed the way Kantra combines a very serious plotline with a very fluffy one.
Picking up with Amy’s Paris tryst with Trey – aka Theodore James Laurence III – from the first book, we follow Amy as she heads back to her mother’s farm and tries to start up a career in fashion design in her hometown. It turns out Trey has returned to his own family’s farm, and the twosome slowly begin to realize that their feelings for each other are anything but platonic.
Beth, meanwhile, is in the middle of a successful songwriting and country music career. Stuck in a toxic relationship with her writing and singing partner, Colt, she finds herself being forced by their insurance company to undergo drug testing after throwing up onstage. The real problem is her anxiety and severe shyness which has compounded itself in anorexia, and when hard-charging Colt dumps her at her mother’s farm instead of staying with her after Jo’s wedding, she finds herself attracted to Dan, her mother’s farmhand.
All the while, the girls’ mother, goat farmer Abby, contemplates separating from their father and tries to forge a path of her own while the Marches worry about the path she’s chosen.
Eventually, both Amy’s career issues and Beth’s health issues come to a head, bringing both of them to a personal crossroads. What will they do? And will they both survive to see brighter days?
The differing tones in the two main plotlines tug Beth & Amy in different directions. Filled with pining and yearning, one-night stands and almost-but-not-quite relationships, Amy’s romance-laden storyline is a bit more light-hearted than the rest of the book. I still don’t know how I feel about Kantra’s choice to make Amy a fashion designer instead of a painter, but the switch works in this context, and Amy is very sympathetic. Jo/Laurie stans, though, should beware that they are not the endgame in this novel.
Beth’s storyline is the most interesting, in that her intense shyness and homebody nature ends up factoring in to her inability to properly exercise her gifts, allowing her to fall in love with a toxic man. The author handles her anorexia is sensitively, but it is very vivid and might be triggering for some. Beth’s romance with Dan – driven by kittens, country living, music and the simple life – is very sweet if complicated. Colt is not a layered villain, and Dan is another version of one of Jo’s Little Men charges, Dan Kean, who meets a tragic death in Alcott’s timeline but fortunately survives in this story.
We do get glimpses of Jo and Eric (now the parents of a toddler), and their burgeoning restaurant empire as they prepare for their wedding, and Meg (the mom of two rambunctious twins) as she and Jo try to help their sisters deal with their life choices. I honestly could’ve done with more Meg in the narrative – she seemed to get short shrift. But the novel is just as much about how Beth and Amy foster a sisterly relationship after years of living in their older sisters’ shadows, and Kantra does an excellent job with that element of the plot.
I also liked Abby’s struggle to figure out who she is outside of her role as wife and mother. Her wise observations about both her near ex-husband and her children add additional insight to the novel.
Beth & Amy is excellent and if you can manage the subject matter of Beth’s plotline it is also intensely rewarding.
Note: This novel contains mention of disordered eating and sexual coercion.