Meg & Jo
Meg and Jo is a charming – but yet another modern retelling of – Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women. Though there have been a ton of retellings of the novel released in latter days (such as 2017’s The Spring Girls), Meg and Jo stands apart for injecting a little bit of Southern nice into the mix. Meg and Jo is both a straightforward modern retelling of the book and an alternate universe story in which the girls follow the general pathway of their Civil War-era counterparts, but grow up and past their origins.
Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March were children of the church; the daughters of a preacher who has followed his calling all the way to Iraq and life as an Army chaplain. This sacrifice means that they have to move to their grandparents’ farm when another preacher and his family have to take over their house. The adjustment brings on changes both good (Jo gets custody of the attic, where she can write in peace) and bad (she yearns for her father’s presence, an impossibility thanks to the distance; Meg does not get a fancy car for Christmas as she wished so she can ‘keep up with the joneses’).
Years later, and after being fired from the paper she once worked for, Jo is a mid-level, New York-based food blogger who moonlights as a prep chef and, on the side, struggles to write fiction that’s poorly received by most editors she’s shown it to.
Meg, meanwhile, has a perfect-seeming life as housewife, raising preschool-aged twins Daisy and DJ, still living in their hometown of Bunyan, North Carolina, still married to John, an ex-teacher and current wrestling coach working at Mister Laurence’s car dealership. Her family life is the center of her world.
Young, flirty Amy, in Europe after a graduation present gone right, has an internship at Louis Vuitton, and quiet, conservative, self-sacrificing Beth is…not dead, and managed to make it to college to study music in Greensboro, hoping to make it big as a musician even though she has stage fright.
Meg, Beth, Jo and Amy’s lives are upended by the sudden news that their mother has been hospitalized after a fall at home. Going back to see her during the holidays, Jo is confronted by memories of her failed romance with boy next door Theodore – Trey – Laurence, who now works at his grandfather’s car dealership, alongside John. Trey is the boy she decided she was better off being friends with, and tries daily to convince herself she’s made the right choice. But she’s also falling for her supervisor – Chef Eric Bhaer – who seems to know her better than anyone. But when Jo breaches his trust, will they be able to recover?
Meanwhile, Meg tries to control everything, tries to hold everything together as her mother deteriorates and her father continues to put God first; juggling a cooling marriage, her active three-year-olds, and the responsibility of her mother’s post-hospital care and duties connected to the family farm, in spite of her growing sense of misery and stress. When Carl Stewart, an old high school acquaintance, calls to offer her an accounting job, she’s tempted out into the workforce again – and it could lead to amazing things for her. Will she and John learn how to balance their duties and trust one another?
Meg and Jo does a few interesting things with the March clan that makes this one of the better retellings of the novel. By grounding things in two different worlds – the intense, competitive universe of line-cook chefs in New York and the simple, quiet everyday world of small-town North Carolina it adds a fresh perspective
By making the Marches southern, a new sense of personality is infused into their story – also this flock is less wholeheartedly charitable but human, and still flawed. Kantra has taken an interesting approach to modernizing the novel; we spend most of our time in the present with our characters, and Jo’s career path – as well as Meg’s – are unique to the book, as is Aunt Phee, who’s a fresh analogue for Aunt Josephine, modernized, still acid-tongued but with a purse dog. Big events in the original book are changed and moved around, and Mr. March’s constant absences from his family’s life are finally addressed. And honestly, I wish the breakdown of the marriage between Abby and Ash had been more thoroughly discussed as it’s the most interesting take on the union I’ve seen in any of the remakes. Laurie is an immature type who is nonetheless kind and loving of the sisters, though it doesn’t innovate much away from the source material.
There are a few unnecessary additions – an unplanned pregnancy, which turns out to have been at least two secret unplanned pregnancies; too few setbacks in particular for Meg, who, though she does struggle with her jobs, ultimately doesn’t really have to question her life’s path, her marriage not worth questioning and rock-solid. Beth and Amy, because they’re going to have their own book, have truncated stories told from outside in this one, which is a frustration, something that Amy even makes fun of (while talking about Pride and Prejudice, she points out that Jo’s judgmental self has pegged her as the family Lydia) .
In the end, however, the book’s sense of character and time and place make Meg and Jo a good, worthwhile read.