cover image Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters

Anne Boyd Rioux. Norton, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-25473-0

To coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women, Rioux (Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist) offers a solid and well-illustrated history of the novel’s publication, reception, and adaptations. Rioux lays out biographical background on author Louisa May Alcott and traces her unlikely move from gothic potboiler author to girls’ literature phenom as a result of the book’s wild popularity. Rioux also examines the novel’s many stage and screen adaptations, argues it is as appropriate for boys as girls (a section that could be condensed), and discusses contemporary YA fiction directly influenced by this seminal work. In one section, Rioux explores the many women writers, from Susan Sontag to J.K. Rowling, inspired by the example of Jo March, one of the only early literary models of female authorship. She also successfully highlights important points in Little Women’s history, such as the publisher’s altered 1880 edition (still commonly read) that cleans up Alcott’s lively slang. Throughout, Rioux offers enough detail to entertain and inform without overwhelming the reader. While she notes the novel’s readership has fallen off in recent years, one hopes her well-crafted work will help revive interest in a work she rightfully argues should be placed beside Tom Sawyer as an enduring American classic. [em](Aug.) [/em]