cover image FRUITLANDS: Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect

FRUITLANDS: Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect

Gloria Whelan, . . HarperCollins, $15.99 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-06-623815-9

Louisa May Alcott fans will relish this fictionalized account of the Alcotts' stay at Fruitlands, a commune where Louisa's transcendentalist father and his friend, Mr. Lane, conducted their famous not-so-successful experiment in forming a perfect community. Whelan (Angel on the Square; Homeless Bird) structures the novel as two sets of journal entries based on Alcott's own childhood writings: "In the first diary there will be Louy, who will try to be just what Mother and Father would wish. In the second diary there will be Louisa, just as she is," a sentiment that will vindicate many an aspiring journal-keeper. The first-person narratives vividly capture Louisa's wit, feisty spirit and keen powers of observation. The entries intended to be shared with Mother and Father give an insightful overview of the commune, where naturalists gather to better themselves. They also reveal Louisa's ongoing struggle to meet the commune leaders' lofty expectations by denying herself small pleasures: "We are not to eat butter or rob hens of their eggs. I will do all that I can to curb my coarse appetites." The private pages, penned in the "leafy tent" of a willow tree, offer a more in-depth study of commune members' quirks and foibles, as well as a hilarious critique of others' success or failure in practicing what they preach. ("Mr. Lane is to teach us all how we are to improve ourselves. I watched him stride along behind the wagon, his head up, his chin out, proud of walking while others rode. He did not look like a man who thought he needed improvement"). This meticulously researched book reveals Whelan's depth of understanding and respect for Louisa May Alcott's outlook on life and relationships with others. A marvelous companion for the 19th-century author's semi-autobiographical Little Women. Ages 8-12. (Nov.)