Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott

Elise Hooper’s debut novel conjures the fascinating, untold story of May Alcott—Louisa’s youngest sister and an artist in her own right.

We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May.

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.

What little woman didn’t grow up reading Little Women over and over and over again? And I must have watched the movie a hundred times. It was a sort of primer to Pride and Prejudice, right? The same sort of sister tropes:  the rebel writer, sweet stoic oldest, flirty trouble maker, serious youngest. They aren’t perfect mirrors, but I love the similarities.

I’d known LW was based on Louisa’s family experience, so how fun that there is now a book about the sister that inspired Amy March–possibly the most interesting character besides Jo. I’ve always thought it interesting (and slightly confusing) that there was a May Alcott, when Louisa’s middle name is also May!

She had such a busy, fascinating life. After some bad reviews on her drawings, she devoted her life to art education–constantly working to make herself better. Thanks much to Louisa’s book funds, she was able to travel to London and throughout Europe to study, and finally became a successful artist.

The writing style reminds me quite a bit of The Other Einstein, only a little slower paced. I liked the story, but it didn’t draw me in quite as much as I hoped it would. However, I’ve been a little sick and slumpy this week, so it might not be the book’s fault. I liked how Hooper brought in other famous artists of the era, to create a sense of what the creative environment would have been like at the time. As with any historical fiction, she embellished a little from letters and journal entries to build on drama and story, but it makes for a wonderful novel about a sister we don’t hear much about.

I won an ecopy from Goodreads and William Morrow. This post contains affiliate links.

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