I still have the illustrated hardcover version that was given to me as a Christmas present low these many years ago(and yes, I do have a couple of other editions besides that one) and make a point of it to reread this tale of the sisters March every so often.
With that in mind, I must tell you that it's been a pure delight this season in reading Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra, a modern day retelling of the LMA classic. As the title indicates, the focus here is on the elder March sisters but Beth and Amy are included as well(plus, they're getting their own book-more on that later!) but instead of New England, this story is set in North Carolina, where Marmee runs a small farm as Father March is a military chaplain who works with displaced veterans during his off hours.
Although all of the girls are grown-up in this novel, we do get some flashbacks to their younger years and even a version of "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents", which you can't leave out of any Little Women themed story, not at all!:
All of the March daughters are living on their own and far from home except for Meg, who is a stay at home mom dealing with rambunctious twins Daisy and DJ. Her husband John was a coach at the local high school but left that job in order to take a better paying one as a car salesman.
Meg was working at the bank, enjoying the use of her practical skills in helping folks get much needed loans, but gave that up to be the traditional mother. It seems that neither of them are completely happy with this set-up and things get more complicated when Meg's mother starts having serious health problems.
While she wants to be all things to all of the people in her life, Meg is beginning to see that boxing herself into too many corners is not the best solution. She needs to be reminded of her innate greatness perhaps with the aid of a certain sister there:
After her journalism job was downsized, Jo started up a foodie blog that is steadily growing a following. What pays her bills, however, is her prep cook position at Gusto, one of the most popular restaurants in the city.
Owner and head chef Eric Bhaer is as passionate about his food as he is about Jo, as the two of them start up a slowly simmering yet sexy romance. Trouble is, he despises the whole internet food scene with a particular scorn for "hipster bloggers."
While Jo hasn't been forthcoming with her true online identity, she is worried that telling him would cool their intimacy off for good. Yet, it's only a matter of time before that revelation needs to be made and the sooner, the better as it's only fair that Jo be as open about her artistic inspirations as Eric is:
The plot goes between Meg's viewpoint and Jo's, allowing a solid back and forward that anchors the reader nicely. While the settings and situations may be more modern in scope than the source material, Kantra keeps things on an even keel, putting the emotional growth of the characters first which is what makes Little Women such a compelling literary icon in the first place.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a follow-up to this book planned for release sometime next year entitled Beth & Amy, with the former being a singer/songwriter and the latter a fashionista in Paris. Meg & Jo has an excerpt to that book at the end of this one yet don't wait for both of these novels to be available at once as M&J will most assuredly whet your page turning appetite and should not be delayed at all costs!
With the approach of a new cinematic Little Women, it is wonderful to have a great companion book of sorts to enjoy while waiting for movie tickets and popcorn. Meg & Jo is a clever, engaging read that honors the legacy of Alcott while breathing a little fresh life into it's leading ladies, a pleasure not to be denied indeed: