Photo by Wilson Webb/Allstar/Columbia Picture
I recently set out to see Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, thanks in part to the overwhelming praise I was seeing on my timeline. While Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 classic has been adapted a handful of times, the public agreed: Gerwig’s interpretation was special.
I can’t remember if I’ve ever read Alcott’s full novel, but the story is one I’ve been familiar with since childhood. The lives of Jo March and her sisters Meg, Amy, and Beth is one many have read over and over in their lifetime. The ideas explored within it – womanhood and artistic expression, to name two – keep it relevant even in modern times.
If watching the 2019 film has you aching to pick up a good book, you’ve come to the right place.
I know, I know. But I had to start at the most obvious book (outside of Alcott’s original) before I could move on to more contemporary works. The parallels between Austen and Alcott’s stories are numerous. A family of daughters seeking marriage and financial stability. A romantic eldest daughter (Jane/Meg), strong-willed second (Elizabeth/Jo), and annoying (I’d argue misunderstood) little sister (Lydia/Amy). Bottom line: if you like many of the archetypes that the March sisters employ and are in the market for another classic, Pride and Prejudice is where I’d start.
On the surface this one is coming out of the blue, but hear me out. Yes, this is a fantasy and tonally the most different, but there is just as much family drama. In this world, jade equals power and the Kaul family have a lot of jade. We follow the points of view of the three Kaul siblings, Lan, Hilo, and Shae, as well as their cousin, Anden. Each of them grapples with their duty to their family, their function in the clan, and what is best for them. If, like me, you were struck most by Gerwig’s insistence that Little Women not only be Jo’s story, but that of all the March sisters, then this is the adult fantasy book for you. Bonus: Both Hilo and Amy have big Scorpio energy, so you have that to look forward to.
This book was a no-brainer for me when I was compiling this list. Centered on the titular Evelyn Hugo, this is a dual-timeline historical/contemporary fiction story about a woman unapologetically chasing her dream to be an actress and making a name for herself in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Evelyn Hugo’s drive is unmatched; she will do (and has done) whatever it takes to get what she wants. I saw echoes of both Jo and Amy in Evelyn, and if you’re looking for another ambitious, creative lady to root for, look no further.
The strength of a matriarchal unit is on full-blast in Wild Beauty. Anna-Marie McLemore’s signature magical realism is prominent in their third book, centered on the Nomeolvides family. There is tale that a curse is upon them: if they fall too much in love, they are destined to lose their lovers. This made the list because of McLemore’s ability to have women be soft and feminine, without confining or defining them as such. It’s about a family of girls who are all a little bit in love with the same person and hits many of the same bildungsroman notes as Gerwig’s film.
If the dual timeline added to your enjoyment and emotional attachment of the movie, Fu’s novel should be the next thing you pick up. At the beginning, there is an unnamed Event that occurs at a summer camp for girls aged 9-11. As the story unfolds in alternating chapters, we see how each of the five protagonists has dealt (or not) with this inciting incident. It’s all about women surviving, and how our past informs our present. The sense of dread that builds as you go along is no small thing. By the end, I was emotionally spent from living alongside these characters.
Inspired in part by the Belle Epoque, this book leans heavier into historical fiction than fantasy, but is an absolute recommendation for those who like lower magic systems. We begin with Hector, psychokinetic former lover of Victoria, who is set on winning back her favor. To get closer to her, he decides to court her cousin by marriage and the interpersonal drama takes off from there. Little Women fans who enjoy Amy and particularly her monologue on marriage being an economic union will also appreciate the complexity of Moreno-Garcia’s point-of-view characters, both protagonists and antagonists. I like to think of this almost as what might have happened if one of the March sisters hadn’t chosen the path she did.
It seems that the public are not the only ones who agree that Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is something to talk about. It has picked up six nominations for the Oscars, including best picture. Its dedication to painting these women as complicated and messy people – and even more than that, a loving group of sisters – is rarely found. As for me, I’m just happy that Amy March (played by the inimitable Florence Pugh) has finally got her time in the sun. If you want to find out what we’re reading on Womanalia right now click here.