From the publisher: “Bestselling authors Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz bring us a romantic retelling of Little Women starring Jo March and her best friend, the boy next door, Theodore “Laurie” Laurence.” The book is Jo & Laurie (Amazon) (AbeBooks)
1869, Concord, Massachusetts: After the publication of her first novel, Jo March is shocked to discover her book of scribbles has become a bestseller, and her publisher and fans demand a sequel. While pressured into coming up with a story, she goes to New York with her dear friend Laurie for a week of inspiration—museums, operas, and even a once-in-a-lifetime reading by Charles Dickens himself!
But Laurie has romance on his mind, and despite her growing feelings, Jo’s desire to remain independent leads her to turn down his heartfelt marriage proposal and sends the poor boy off to college heartbroken. When Laurie returns to Concord with a sophisticated new girlfriend, will Jo finally communicate her true heart’s desire or lose the love of her life forever?”
When Jo & Laurie was recommended to me because I had like others works by Melissa de la Cruz, I thought, “Why not?” It’s Little Women, it’s Jo and Laurie, what’s not to like? I had no idea that writing a YA novel about beloved characters could get so vitriolic if based on the reviews on Goodreads. There are people who didn’t read the book but rated it one star. Who does that? Rates a book they haven’t even read? “Let’s just completely ignore the intentions of Alcott with this glorified fan fiction” reads one fan review.
I get it. Louisa May Alcott was a century ahead of her time with her feminist prose. Little Women (Amazon) (AbeBooks) was an instant classic when it was first published in the 1860’s. I haven’t studied Alcott nor read her other works (although during the pandemic, I collected a bunch of them), so I was surprised to learn that Little Women was actually two books. The first book was written and was such a success that the publisher wanted Alcott to “finish” Jo’s story, so she did, and that second book was also a success. Subsequent editions combine both books into one, making the Little Women we know and love today. Joe & Laurie (Amazon) (AbeBooks) takes place between books one and two, when Jo doesn’t know how to make her characters go forward. She’s also dealing with losing her sister Beth.
The first time I read the book as a girl, I wanted Joe & Laurie (Amazon) (AbeBooks) together and was so disappointed when it didn’t happen. As I got older, I realized my folly, but that was after 30 years of living in the 20th century (and like Jo, married an older, wiser man who would not make me “settle down” in a conventional way). But even as an adult with a wider view on female/male relationships, what’s so wrong about wanting a first love to work out?
Stohl and de la Cruz have fashioned a world that seems much like the original, with dialogue that fits. Jo is a young woman who’s simultaneously a sweetheart and yet strange for the times in which they are living for all her feminist ways, fragile in psyche and yet tough, too. She’s also joyous, but can be very angry in any given situation. Laurie is still the clever, kind and passionate young man who is unflinchingly in love with someone who does not love him back in the same way. Or does she? That’s the heart of the novel.
Either the thought of Jo & Laurie makes your feminist soul want to vomit, or you can take this book for what it is meant to be: an alternate history of some beloved characters. I myself enjoyed visiting with these old friends again and exploring what could have been.
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