Book Review: The Revelation of Louisa May
By: Michaela MacColl
Published By: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Page Count: 272
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction
I have loved Little Women since I was a girl. It is one of those novels that captured my imagination and heart without letting go. As an adult, I still reread it fondly. My knowledge of its author, Louisa May Alcott, was slim so when I saw this novel, I was intrigued about the chance to read about an author who had such an impact on me. The Revelation of Louisa May combines authentic historical fact with the imaginings of Michaela MacColl.
Louisa is a teenager at the time of this story. Her life is not the cozy, aristocratic life I imagined, but more like the one in Little Women. Louisa and Jo have so much in common. The Alcott household is rich in ideals, but low in funds. In fact, at the book's opening things have become so dire that Louisa's mother, Marmee, and younger sister, May, are leaving to spend the summer in New Hampshire where Marmee will work to gain income for the struggling family. Meanwhile, Louisa is expected to keep the household running and perform all of Marmee's domestic duties. This wasn't uncommon for the time period, but I was angry that none of this would have been an issue if Louisa's father, Bronson, had just gotten a job to support his family. Bronson feels that he should not have to work for anyone due to his brilliant mind, but thoughts do not pay the bills. It did not seem to bother Bronson at all that his family had to largely rely on charity from good friends and family.
Louisa is exasperated by her father and the impending separation from her mother. I loved that Louisa was headstrong and outspoken. She had no problem putting men in their place and doing as she pleased in spite of the social norms of the time period. She truly was not one to fit into the gender mold created by men. Her spirit made me smile and again conjured images of Jo March. The gender double standard plays a heavy role in this one.
In addition to normal household chores, Louisa also must manage her family's stop on the Underground Railroad. Hiding slaves was not something many people in her community supported; it was dangerous work that could jeopardize the enter family. The Alcotts had a complex system to keep the fugitives hidden until they could continue their journey north. Things get more complicated and dangerous when a slave catcher named Finch arrives in town looking for a slave who happens to be hidden away on the Alcott property. I was interested in learning more about Louisa's connection the Underground Railroad.
In addition to the historical components that I loved, it was also intriguing to see other literary figures play an important role in the Alcott's lives. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are neighbors and close friends of the Alcotts. I don't know much about these gentlemen aside from their literacy creations, but now I am inspired to learn more about these men. Louisa's walks on the banks of Walden Pond made me smile. I had no idea that Emerson and Thoreau knew Louisa so well.
History isn't the only thing driving this novel. There is a murder mystery as well. I didn't enjoy this component as much as the historical pieces. In fact, when the murder happens and the plot begins to revolve around the "whodunnit", I felt my attention wavering.
Overall, I enjoyed this glimpse into the life of Louisa May Alcott. The author's information at the end of the novel helped me piece together what was based in fact and what was fiction. I am inspired to read and learn more about this fascinating female author; I appreciate that there were suggestions for further reading at the end of this one. This was also my first experience reading one of Michaela MacColl's titles, but I own several of her other works. I'm excited to work them into my reading schedule. I love that MacColl combines historical research, strong female leads, and compelling plots.
One Last Gripe: I loved the history, but I could have done without the murder mystery.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved that each chapter began with a quotation from Little Women.
First Sentence: "You're leaving me?"
Favorite Character: Louisa
Least Favorite Character: Finch
Louisa May Alcott can't believe it—her mother is leaving for the summer to earn money for the family and Louisa is to be in charge of the household. How will she find the time to write her stories, much less have any adventures of her own? But before long, Louisa finds herself juggling her temperamental father, a mysterious murder, a fugitive seeking refuge along the Underground Railroad, and blossoming love. Intertwining fact, fiction, and quotes from Little Women, Michaela MacColl has crafted another spunky heroine whose story will keep readers turning pages until the very end.