Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women and its follow-up Good Wives (which are often just considered as a singular piece of work, collectively called Little Women), make up one of my favourite stories in classic literature. The third book in the series, Little Men, doesn’t ever seem to get quite as much attention, and now having read it, I can see why. While I definitely enjoyed this and wouldn’t want to suggest it was bad, it doesn’t feel like much of a meaningful continuation of what came before.

A few of the characters from the first two books appear, but the ones with the biggest role are Jo and her husband. Of all the characters to be a focus for a third book, I am glad that it was Jo, because she was my favourite of the Little Women and what she’s doing at this stage in her life is really cool: helping to run Plumfield – a school for underprivileged children.

Though the thing about this novel is that it is told from the point of view of the children at Plumfield. At the start, a boy named Nat comes to stay with them, and we get the story of him getting used to his new life in the school, getting to know the other kids. Together they all share various little adventures, which prompt them to learn important life lessons (much like the girls did in the original novel), but it feels like a new story in the same setting, rather than strictly being a continuation of the old story – a ‘next generation’ type thing.

It’s a very episodic novel, which each chapter telling a different story, but I actually like that style of storytelling. It gives different characters a chance to step into the spotlight at different times, and means they all get developed quite well. The cast of new characters is pretty great too. Some examples include Nan (one of my favourites), who is a young girl who has too much confidence (which leads to sticky situations), Dan, a boy who grew up on the streets and struggles to adapt to polite society, and Daisy (who is Amy’s daughter), who for a while, is the only girl there.

It’s a wholesome novel that I enjoy for much the same reasons as I liked the first two books, though it felt closer in style to Little Women than to Good Wives, which is a bit of a step down, after how good the second book was. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to be admired here, and I think it’s good for fans to view this as a kind of spin-off, rather than a true sequel, as that will alleviate any disappointment somebody may feel in expecting a third book in the series.

One of my favourite things about the book was the fact that it was generally pretty progressive. Jo thinks that it’s important for boys and girls to be educated together (which was ahead of its time) and also understands that individual students have individual needs. Obviously, there’s the odd bit of dodgy nineteenth century values every now and then, but I think it’s very good for it’s time, and it always makes me happy when authors I like are on the right side of history.

If you’re looking for a cosy read which manages to embrace the darker side of life without losing its positive ethos, then this is a must-read. Fans of Little Women in particular should give this one a go.

Rating: 8.3/10

Buy it here.

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