May Alcott spends her days sewing blue shirts for Union soldiers, but she dreams of painting a masterpiece—which many say is impossible for a woman—and of finding love, too. When she reads her sister’s wildly popular novel, Little Women, she is stung by Louisa’s portrayal of her as “Amy,” the youngest of four sisters who trades her desire to succeed as an artist for the joys of hearth and home.
Determined to prove her talent, May makes plans to move far from Massachusetts and make a life for herself with room for both watercolors and a wedding dress. Can she succeed? And if she does, what price will she have to pay? Based on May Alcott’s letters and diaries, as well as memoirs written by her neighbors, Little Woman in Blue puts May at the center of the story she might have told about sisterhood and rivalry in an extraordinary family.
I sure do love all of the books coming out about lesser known women in history. May Alcott may have already been known to many, but I had no idea Louisa Alcott had a sister who was just as talented as she was--and I'm sure many lovers of Little Women don't know either if they only went by Louisa's portrayal of May as Amy in the book. Jeannine Atkins has shone a spotlight on the other talented Alcott sister, exploring the nature of sisterhood, the effects of fame on a relationship, and the emergence of the modern woman.
The story takes us from the family's loving home in Massachusetts, where Louisa is a struggling writer and May a budding young artist, to the museums and art enclaves of Paris and London. Both women are dedicated to their craft, but while the somber and avowedly single Louisa is taken seriously, May has to fight to make the world believe that a pretty, fun-loving woman who yearns for a partner and children can still be a talented and dedicated artist, and there is no bigger doubter than her own sister. When Little Women is published, Louisa is catapulted into the spotlight, but May finds herself held down by her sister's unfavorable portrayal of her in the novel, and by her sister's dismissal of her artistic ability. Determined to prove Louisa and the world wrong, May seizes the opportunity to take her work to the next level by studying the masters in Europe.
In Paris and London, May embraces her work and her independence. She meets many artists who will be recognizable to the reader and who will have an influence on her work. She learns to take risks and develop her own style, and her hard work pays off when not one but two of her pieces are admitted into the prestigious Paris Salon. But through it all, she still yearns for her sister to acknowledge her merits, and she yearns for a man who will love her for who she is and be supportive of her career. Even as she watches her friends get married and give up their own dreams of success, she never compromises on hers. When she's just about given up hope that she will have a family of her own to go along with her career, love comes calling, and May will have to determine if she has the courage to step into the unknown and reach for the life she's always wanted.
I love reading fiction about artists. Artists see the world through a different lens, and everything around them has potential for immortalization through a painting. Their world is full of colors and emotions, as is this book. I loved meeting all of the famous artists May rubbed elbows with, as well as the writers the Alcott family knew back in Massachusetts. Today's reader will identify strongly with May's desire to have it all--a career and a family and to look good while doing it--while Louisa May Alcott lovers may be surprised that a woman who found fame and fortune by her own dedication to her art, and who was a staunch feminist, would be so dismissive and discouraging of another woman's desire for the same, and her own sister, no less. May's desire for recognition and personal fulfillment is a driving force, as it is for many of us, but it is not the whole of her. Ms. Atkins has created a well-rounded portrayal of a woman who knew what she wanted but was still plagued by doubts, who wanted to be taken seriously on her own yet still yearned for acceptance and companionship.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, though it did take me a little while to become accustomed to the author's style. I found it to be a little choppy or "jumpy" in the beginning, with some paragraphs starting out in one time or place and then advancing months or even years and ending up in a different place in the same paragraph. But when you have a lifetime to cover in 326 pages, you have to make some concessions. And the writing smoothed out and settled down as May's journey really kicked into gear. This is a loving tribute to a woman who should not have been relegated to her sister's shadow, who deserves to be remembered for her own accomplishments, and who deserves to be known for her true self rather than Amy March. It's an emotional and inspiring story, sure to satisfy women's historical fiction lovers and a must-read for fans of Little Women.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
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