I have to start this review by saying this is a very well-written book. I loved how fully developed all the characters were as well as the turns the story took. We see iconic characters with flaws, and that's often what makes them more interesting. Maybe, what I don't like, which I'll get into, is purely circumstantial to the time period. Maybe the things that bug me about these versions of the Marches were inevitable based on the setting. Who's to say.
I will tell you that I wanted to love this story like I love Little Women. I wanted to feel on equal footing with this portion of the March family's story as I did when Alcott wrote about them.
There was something about March I couldn't get passed to like him. We meet him after he's been deployed as a chaplain in the Civil War. Through his letters home, and his reveries, we learn about his youth, how he starts out in the world, and his eventual meeting of Marmee. Surrounded by the Concord elite like Emerson and Thoreau, March's life begins rather well. One bad investments sends him into poverty and the situation the family is in throughout Little Women. March then volunteers to go into the war. He's too old to really be a soldier, but he wants to go to be there for the boys. His experiences while in the service eventually become his torment.
Meanwhile, we also get to see a more youthful version of Marmee. Her determined devotion to what's right, her nose for injustice, and her hot temper are on full display. It's this last trait that March strives to get under control after they marry, and it's all around awkward. She doesn't strike me as a character willing to be controlled, and March doesn't seem like the kind of guy to lean so strongly into convention. But, he does, and it's weird.
Additionally, there's Grace. She's the only other prominent character throughout the book. She's a domestic slave, raised within the home of a wealthy Southerner. March comes into contact with her multiple times in the story. She always seems to know more than everyone else, to push situations to the right outcome. She's the reality of the time period, but it was almost too convenient to wrap all that up within a single person.
Characters aside, this book touches on the horror of slavery and the Civil War beautifully. By making it small, focusing on one person in one spot, emotions feel heightened. The reader feels connected. The pain is more clearly felt. It was powerful, and I loved that aspect of the story. This was such a tragic period in history for so many reasons, and Little Women always glossed over it since that story took place away from the war. Giving the March family this added dimension was good.
I'm honestly on the fence about this book. I did like parts of it, but its downfall might have been that it used familiar characters, making it harder to appreciate for what it was. I do recommend this book, but for those who love Alcott, take it with a grain of salt. It's a different Marmee and an uncomfortable Mr. March.