Desert Isle Keeper
Great or Nothing
With apologies to Paul Simon, it seems there are 50 million ways to rewrite Little Women. I’ve seen modern adaptions that switch the book’s setting and time period; versions that give us a living Beth or a Jo/Laurie union. Versions where the Marches are vampires or werewolves, or just plain horny. The four folks taking on Louisa May Alcott’s legacy in this re-imagining have simpler ambitions – they transplant the story into the 1940, shift the timeline to after Beth’s death, and split the book’s narrative between them, with each writer taking on a character. But Great or Nothing works because it keeps the essence of what Alcott strived so hard to present and makes it even better.
It’s 1942, and the March sisters have scattered to the wind in the wake of both Pearl Harbor and the death of their sister Beth. Arguments were had, and none of the family are on speaking terms. Jo is in Boston and, like Alcott, has joined the war effort which, in this story, means riveting together planes. She feels rootless and disconnected from her family, but unable to cross the bridge she’s set on fire. Living in a boardinghouse, she meets lively journalist Charlotte and for the first time in her life, falls hard.
Meg is a schoolteacher living with Marmee, trying to adjust to wartime rationing and keep her mother’s spirits afloat. She tries to support her friends and students as they lose those close to them while participating in the social whirl of her rich friends. She finds herself falling for poor soldier John Brooks. Marrying him will mean many changes – will she be up to them?
The biggest departure from Alcott’s novel comes in the form of Amy’s story. She’s in London when America enters the war and ends up charming her way into the Red Cross, lying the whole time to her family that she’s safe in Canada. Soon she’s meeting and tangling with family friend Teddy Lawrence, who’s now a daring pilot trying to overcome a broken heart after Jo rejected his proposal.
Each point of view is carefully balanced in Great or Nothing, with each sister developing as the book goes along. The lessons each girl learns are similar to what the original book presents – Jo must get over her pride and learn to become a better author through reconciliation and the discovery of true love; Meg must reject money and ‘society’ for happiness with John; Amy must grow up and discover who she is as an adult to claim happiness with Laurie. But the trip there is different, and the changes each author makes to the March girls’ story properly enchanting. Beth’s point of view is presented in verse, which is an interesting break and provides insight into the girls’ childhood, but also feels like the least necessary part of the book. Yet the verses are also properly lovely.
The 1940s setting fits nicely and works well for a LW retelling, and we get visits from other characters in the original. Great or Nothing provides a wonderful, unique look at the March girls that will be cherished by teenagers for years to come.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier