Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux - A Review
Anne Boyd Rioux's Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy is a thorough, thoughtful, and engaging examination of the lasting appeal and legacy of Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic Little Women. This is one of those rare books that teachers, scholars, and avid fans can all read and use, and more importantly enjoy. Released in August 2018, in time for Little Women's 150th Anniversary, this book had a great deal of buzz around it and six months later, it's still a book with a lot of buzz attached to it.
Rioux organizes the book into three parts: The Making of a Classic, The Life of a Classic, and A Classic for Today. Part I: The Making of a Classic details the history of Little Women. Rioux gives a thorough biography of Louisa May Alcott and how Little Women (and its sequels) came to be. I found the information on Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott, as well as Louisa's complicated relationship with him very interesting and enlightening. It explains why Mr. March is almost completely absent from the books. An avid Alcott fan, I found that I still learned a great deal from Part I of the book and found it an excellent way to open a fascinating study.
Part II: The Life of a Classic walks the reader through the many forms Little Women took as its popularity and legacy grew. Rioux dissects many of the adaptations of the book including movies, plays, and radio programs. She explains each adaptation's impact, its highlights, and its shortcomings. As an Old Hollywood film buff, I found the chapters covering the film adaptations most interesting. Among the film adaptations (all under the title of Little Women) discussed are the 1933's Cukor directed/Katharine Hepburn version, 1949's June Allyson/Liz Taylor version, and 1994's Winona Ryder version.
Part II also covers the lasting impact that Alcott's Little Women had on readers and ultimately future writers. I was amazed, but not surprised, by the amount of writers, both male and female, who claim to have been inspired by/impacted by the book. As a budding writer who was herself inspired by Little Women, and more particularly by Jo March, I found this part truly delightful, like a meeting of kindred spirits.
Part III: A Classic for Today examines the impact and relevance of Little Woman today. This part was particularly fascinating and eye-opening. I was both surprised and appalled at the fact that Little Woman, once seen as an important book to be taught in schools, was lacking pretty much any presence within our schools currently. The fact that the driving force behind the book's absence in our school seems to be a concern that the boys won't like reading it and that we shouldn't subject them to having to read a "girl's" book is absolutely ridiculous. Meanwhile, as the book expertly points out, girls are subjected to reading boy-oriented books like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and The Lord of the Flies, and have to grin and bear it, but God forbid that boys read a couple of girl-oriented books such as Little Women or Anne of Green Gables. Double standard much?
Rioux's writing reflects thorough and dedicated research. It is both informative and enjoyable. I could not put the book down. I would HIGHLY recommend this book to all. Read, learn, remember the information within this book, and after you've done all of this, go read Alcott's Little Women for yourselves (or again). Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy is a superb and absolutely fabulous read, much like the book it discusses.
I give it a 9/10.
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....