The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Kelly O’Connor McNees imagines an alternative life for Louisa May Alcott in her historical novel – The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.      Imitating recent speculation about other famous women writers – Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte – that they wrote convincingly about love because of some secret episode in their lives, McNees creates one for LMA.

Just as Alcott used her own family for the inspiration of Little Women and mirrored herself in her feisty character Jo, McNees follows the same storyline in recreating the four Alcott sisters’ lives – with Louisa May reliving many of the familiar adventures of Josephine March.    In McNees’s version, however, the  brilliant yet misunderstood “philosopher” father, Bronson Alcott, whose high-minded ideals often failed to provide for his own family, is closer to the real person than Father March.

Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thoreau all make cameo appearances in the book, reflecting their real influence on Alcott’s thinking and writing. And McNees neatly ties in hints of Alcott’s future involvement in reform movements as well as her determination to make her own way – what could be classified as feminist in those days.

Most readers will know that Louisa May Alcott never married, but she comes close in this version, and the summer romance makes for good reading, especially for fans of Little Women.  You’ll be cheering for Joseph Singer to convince Louisa May to run away with him and test the possibility of being married, but still free and independent.   No wonder this book became an Oprah pick.

The ending is a little stale in McNees’ attempt to add credibility to the fiction, but her imagination leads you into the consequences of choice, and a good summer read.