Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Book Title: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott ~ A Novel
Author: Kelly O’Connor McNees
Original Publication Date: 2010
Edition Read:
The Berkley Publishing Group/Penguin, 2011
Total Pages:
Fiction/Historical Fiction/Retro Classic
Reason Read:
Won in a giveaway
3 out of 5 Stars

“Anna yearned for things, but they were all within the boundaries of acceptability. What Louisa wanted – to have freedom and money of her own, lots of it, so that she could control her fate and take care of her parents, to come and go as she pleased, to have an apartment of her own, with big bright windows and a desk so wide she could curl up to sleep on top of it when the words wouldn’t come – these weren’t the sorts of yearnings one discussed at parties.” ~ Chapter 9 (pg. 167)

Well, I don’t know what kind of parties Louisa went to, but I find her yearnings perfectly normal. Who wouldn’t want to curl up and sleep on their writing desk? Ah, but I think this is why the world is so fascinated by Ms. Alcott – she accomplished what so many young women have dreamed of forever – independence on her own terms, recognition and acceptance, success. In her day, it was trail blazing. In my day, it is realistic.

Ms. Alcott wrote the young adult Classic, “Little Women” – among many many many others. Based almost entirely on her own life, the character most closely mirroring the author herself is Jo. Determined to choose her writing talents and desires over even love, I admired her determination but also felt sad that she forsake true love in the process. In the book, Jo does eventually find love later in life. In Ms. Alcott’s life, this did not appear to have happened. The author of this fictional book seeks to fill in the gap of a period of time less well-known about Ms. Alcott and give her that torrid love affair her fans always hoped she might have.

I have been to Orchard House (see photos and post here)- the home of the Alcotts in Concord, Massachusetts where Ms. Alcott wrote her famous tales and struggled with her father’s stubborn ideals and the lot that women were put into in her society. I have watched documentaries about Ms. Alcott. I have read her work. I do not believe that she could have had the romantic summer that is depicted in this book. I just don’t. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t rooting for it to be true. I am a mushy romantic inside and got completely caught up in the passion living within Louisa through this book.

I did feel that at times McNees seemed to force the facts within her story to make it more credible or believable. It had that feel of “look what I know – look at all of my great research” and it irked me. But perhaps if you were not so familiar with Ms. Alcott’s real world, it wouldn’t be so intrusive in this sweet but sad fantasy inspired by and made just for her.

I wonder what Ms. Alcott herself would think of this effort? I hope that she would be pleased to know she inspired another young woman to write. I’m sure she would have felt it ridiculous that she be the subject. I enjoyed thinking about these things while escaping back in time to a place where Louisa had a taste of what she never allowed Jo to do.


About thebumbles

In addition to online Freelance Writing, Molly blogs about books on Quirky Girls Read and about everything else on The Bumbles Blog. Visit her often and let her know what you think! Unless you are a Yankee fan - then there might be a problem ;0)
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16 Responses to Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

  1. Kailana says:

    I have had this book out from the library a couple times but still haven’t read it. Even if it isn’t amazing, I still want to get a chance to see for myself one of these days!

    • I encourage you to do so! I received this in the mail just before my son was born a few months ago and it taunted me on the coffee table as I looked longingly at it every day wishing I had a moment to pick it up. When I did eventually get some time it was very quick and comfortable reading, easily placing me right into the imagined world of Louisa.

  2. Interesting. I love Louisa May Alcott’s books–my particular favourite being Jack and Jill–both the potboilers and her sweet family stories. I don’t know if I could read a novel giving her a torrid romance, just because I know enough about her life that it would irritate me. Thanks for the review!

    • What irritated me most was that I knew the ending of this imagined romance wasn’t going to end happily ever after. I so wanted it for her. I was reminded of how much of a closet romance novel lover I really am. That irritated me too. I like to espouse about preferring realistic endings instead of conveniently perfect ones. But really, my heart wants to see rainbows and butterflies ;0)

  3. I enjoyed The Lost Summer…, but, as you said, it seemed like pure fiction based on some facts. The kind of fiction that allows for these kinds of fantasies. Wouldn’t it have been lovely if true? BTW, love the cover on your copy. Mine was an ARC.

    Back to the author of Little Women, et. al., though. Maybe what Louisa chose and ended up with was perfectly fine with her. Being alone and independent, in charge of one’s own life is a beautiful dream, too.

    I would love to visit Orchard House and the other LMA haunts.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Oh I don’t doubt that the real Louisa was living her perfect dream. And this fictionalized chapter of her life keeps that spirit within her all the way through – it just let her have a little roll in the hay along the way that showed us she was a big romantic sap just like the rest of us.

  4. Darlene says:

    I’d like to read this one of these days although I’m not in any hurry. I’ve got the book on my shelf waiting. I do really love the cover!

    • I much prefer this cover to the other one that I saw which was just an image of a journal or letter box or something. Although I kept thinking it didn’t look anything like the few images I have seen of the real person. The author addressed that a bit though in her note at the end – she was very intrigued by a less published photo showing a less stern Louisa when she was younger.

  5. Margot says:

    This was one of top ten reads of last year. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It fulfilled a teenage fantasy I had about the author and it made me feel so much better about Alcott’s life. Of course, I still strongly dislike her father.

    • It is funny about the persona of Bronson Alcott. I was truly only exposed to him in any length by another fictionalized Alcott story – “March.” That author told the parallel story of Little Women through Bronson’s eyes as he was away in the war ministering to the soldiers. I felt a lot of empathy for him in that book – though he wasn’t the best husband there either. But being in his mind, experiencing his emotions made things different. If anything, Marmee came off as quite annoying! When I toured Orchard House though, many of the characteristics given to him in this book were what we were told about the way he truly was. Though he and Louisa developed a much different and closer bond later in life.

  6. I read this one a long time ago, but I think I agree with your point that sometimes the facts felt a little intrusive. Overall though, I liked this one too.

  7. stacybuckeye says:

    I don’t know much about Alcott’s real world so I may enjoy this one more that you did.

  8. kaye says:

    I often wonder that same thing when someone writes a novel about someone famous. I’ve had this book on my kindle since Margot first introduced me to it–I haven’t read it yet.

  9. Pingback: 2011 – What A Classic |

  10. Jillian ♣ says:

    I do think Alcott would be pleased. I think she’d support a young author’s work, and if it was about her, she’d say, “Well, I’m dead. Why not?” 🙂

    I read this over the summer. It was one of my favorite reads of 2011.

  11. Maggie says:

    We have friends who live in Walpole NH, so I borrowed and read the book last summer. While I enjoyed the book, I did wish for a church wedding in the little stone church in Walpole and a long, happy life together. So sad, life is not always what we wish for. Oh well, after spending a few days recently again visiting our friends in Walpole, the ladies in my book club decided to spend a week or so next year(if we can find a small rental house or Inn) visiting this delightful little town as though we were a part of it. I can’t wait to experience the tastes, smells, fresh grown fruits and veggies, milk, eggs and much more from the local farm stands. It’s going to be a treat just being in a town that is so historical, delightful and sweet, we all are looking forward to it!

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