Book Review: MEG & JO, a contemporary retelling of Little Women

Happy Publication Day to Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra!

Reimagining Little Women from a contemporary perspective, Virginia Kantra tells the story of the March sisters from the alternating points of view of Meg and Jo, the two eldest.

In New York City, Jo, laid off from her job as a journalist due to budget cuts, writes an anonymous blog while making ends meet by working in the kitchen of a gourmet restaurant under renowned chef Eric Bhaer—who happens to loathe food bloggers—but who is undeniably attractive.

Meg, a former loan officer, gave up her career to stay at home with her young twins. Her husband, John, a beloved teacher and coach, resigned from the school to work at a car dealership where he could earn more money for the family. What is on the surface a perfect family hides unspoken tensions about resentments and sacrifices.

As the holidays approach, Abby March becomes ill and requires hospitalization. Her husband, Ashton, a former military chaplain, is so focused on serving veterans though his non-profit organization, he is unable to provide Abby support, leaving it to Meg and Jo.

With the family in crisis, bonds are tested, and the sisters must consider both what they really want—and if they know each other as well as they think.

I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to write a book inspired by a classic, especially one as loved as Little Women. It requires balancing the spirit of the original with a realistic modern setting. The challenges must be only compounded when the source material comes from the late 1860s, when social and gender mores were so different!

For much of the book, I was very uncomfortable with the gender dynamics. Abby March was completely self-sacrificing and taught her daughters to be the same way in relationships. Meg internalized those messages and reproduced her mother’s behavior while Jo rebelled so completely against it, she wouldn’t allow herself to be close to anyone. Their poor communication skills made their relationships and emotional health suffer. Meanwhile, Beth and Amy were coddled while Meg and Jo assumed all the responsibility for the family.

If I could have reached into the pages and shaken the characters, I probably would have. They did, though, have room to grow, and pressures that made the status quo untenable. My concern is that Meg and Jo never seemed to stop defining themselves independently of the men in their lives. Still, the setting was charming, and I think fans of the original will be satisfied!

The two younger March sisters don’t get much play in this novel, but a second book, Beth & Amy, is in the works in which they will have the spotlight.

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

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