The Spring Girls
The Spring Girls is a modern take on a very classic tale – Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. In recent years and in the wake of the success of books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Little Women is a story that’s undergone multiple modernizations and reinventions – as a werewolf novel, as an erotic novel, and through several modernizations. The Spring Girls joins the latter pile of tales, transferring the Marches (now the Springs) to a modern military base in New Orleans.
Army brats Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy Spring have always been together, but as they hit their teens life begins to tear them in different directions.
The eldest, Meg sets her sights on a handsome soldier named John Brooke, looking to emulate her mother and become an army wife. But Meg – suffering the slings and arrows of misfortune to her reputation, which have painted her as loose thanks to a revenge porn leak by her ex – is torn between taciturn John and the more earthy Shia King, the son of rich parents, with whom she constantly spars.
Jo, meanwhile, dreams of becoming a journalist and war correspondent and wants as far away from New Orleans as she can get. She spends her time submitting articles to Vice’s slush pile and railing against the injustices of the world.
This isn’t a sentiment shared by Beth, a composer who’s shy and quiet – and secretly trying to figure out how to come out to her family.
Amy, the youngest at roughly twelve, is vain, bad at maintaining friendships, and the spoiled baby of the clan.
Mom Meredith, meanwhile, hides a secret drinking problem while waiting for the girls’ father, Frank, to return from his deployment in Kandahar, and is struggling under a mountain of debts.
Things change when Jo meets man-bun-sporting pianist Laurie Laurence, the grandson of the rich and ancient Mister Laurence. Laurie has a distant mother and a dead father – and soon becomes a bosom chum of all of the Spring girls, and Laurie and Jo get closer and closer as the months go by. Though Jo and Laurie kiss, she’s not sure if he’s a friend or a boyfriend. Then the girls hear that their father’s been injured, and everything changes again…
The Spring Girls has a few good, solid twists on Little Women’s most stock tropes, but sometimes it feels like modern fix-it fanfiction – and even worse, it chops off its story mid-stream without reaching a full resolution.
To start with some positives, the author does a good job of situating readers into life on an army base. The transition of both Amy and Jo to this modern period is flawless; Beth, too, feels more realistic here, withdrawn and shy and queer instead of a slowly weakening household saint . Jo and Laurie’s romance is nice and feels like a realistic story of first love. The sisterhood between the four girls is believable, as is their relationship to their mother.
But the book struggles and stumbles with Meg and the Spring parents. The attempt to change Meg’s storyline about social foibles and the evils of keeping up with the Joneses to a more modern storyline about revenge porn and false reputation never rings true for the proper but shallow, stiff-backed Meg of Alcott’s creation. Then there’s the Brooke/Meg/Shia love triangle that leaves the audience groaning because they know who Meg WILL choose and who she SHOULD choose. John is unexciting and unchallenging but distracted; Shia makes Meg so upset she throws up but, in Jo’s words “makes her act like a human.” There’s a heavy subplot about how she’s not living for herself and not leaving the nest – yet she goes off on a vacation with Brooke to the French Quarter during a crisis point.
And then there’s Meredith and the girls’ father, Frank. To be fair the March mother and father are rather nonexistent ciphers in the text of the original novel, fonts of support and moral platitudes. Making Meredith an alcoholic is a realistic reaction to the stress she’s under, but it’s a plot point that influences the girls without going anywhere or resolving anything. And Frank, much like March, enters the narrative, suffers, and causes Jo to have an epiphany – but he feels even less like a real character than his wife.
The worst part of The Spring Girls is that it ends mid-stream, just as it’s getting interesting. Those who know anything about Little Women know how the story ends – this book takes readers to a point roughly beyond Meg’s engagement and stops. There’s no trip to New York for Jo, no trip to Paris for Amy; not even marriage for Meg. It leaves us with a hopeful future taste of their lives but does not feel like a completed narrative.
The general spirit of Little Women is present in The Spring Girls. A lot of the fundamental things apply; the Springs have money problems, Jo still burns off a lock of Meg’s hair, Amy’s a bratty busybody, etc. But it feels like an open, half-finished tale in the end; one that could’ve used just a skosh more time and page-count.