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The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

The Other Alcott (2017)

by Elise Hooper

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Louisa May Alcott's Little Women was one of my favorite novels growing up, particularly because Alcott used herself and her three sisters as inspiration for Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March.  The "real" Amy was Alcott's youngest sister, Abigail May Alcott Nierriker, known as May, who really was an artist, and really went to Europe to study.

Elise Hooper has taken the facts about May and created a novel with them.  Particularly interesting for me were little details about life in Victoria-era Boston and Concord, Massachusetts, as well as in London, Rome, and Paris.  May knew artists like Mary Cassatt, and they too are part of the story.  It's obvious that Hooper did a lot of research for this book.

There is, of course, tension between the talented sisters - Louisa is the family breadwinner, and Hooper paints her as somewhat bossy and domineering, but May is certainly not perfect either.  That's what makes this historical fiction and not simply a biography, however.  Definitely worth a read.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[I received this advance reader edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.] ( )
  riofriotex | Oct 14, 2017 |
I'm not sure there are many women who don't remember reading Louisa May Alcott's Little Women at some point in their lives. The characters were based in part on Louisa's own family- Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and of course Marmee and Father stood in for Anna, Louisa, Lizzie, May and the real-life Marmee and Father.

Elise Hooper's The Other Alcott fictionalizes the story of May Alcott. The book begins with the rave reviews for the recently published Little Women. May drew the illustrations for the book, which received much harsh criticism. May was devastated by this because she wants to become an artist.

Louisa isn't very understanding of May's feelings. She appears to be jealous of May's "lucky", sunny nature, claiming that everything usually always goes May's way; perhaps there is a little schadenfreude going on. May is unhappy that people have the perception that it is luck and not a function of her hard work.

May wants to get out from under Louisa's shadow and study art in nearby Boston. The money that Louisa earns from her writing supports her parents and May, and she is beginning to feel constrained by this obligation.

Louisa takes May to Boston with her, and then to Europe to study. May is thrilled to travel to Europe. While there, she meets many famous female artists, like Jane Gardner and Mary Cassatt, and becomes moderately successful, though it takes her a long time and much study and hard work to get there.

After Louisa returns home to care for their parents, she sends letters to May insisting she come home and take her place while she writes. May is torn between her love and obligation to her family and her desire to be her own person and pursue her own career.

The relationship between Louisa and May is complicated and at the heart of this terrific debut novel, and Hooper writes in her afterward that she embellished the length of the strained relationship for dramatic reasons.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the art scene in Europe in the late 19th century, especially how female artists fought for recognition denied to them as the "weaker sex". May made friends easily, and there are so many interesting characters in her life that are well-drawn here by the author.

People who love Little Women, as well as all the novels about wives of famous men like The Paris Wife, The Aviator's Wife and Loving Frank, will want to read the Other Alcott, as will people who enjoy stories about art and artists. I read it in one day, unwilling to put it down. ( )
  bookchickdi | Oct 1, 2017 |
If you've read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, you likely identified with Jo the most. Jo is the most intriguing character, spunky and creative and devoted to family. Meg is too responsible. Beth is too good. And Amy is too spoiled and selfish. But what of the women who these characters were based on, Amy in particular? Was she really as bratty as she comes off as being much of the time in Little Women? Elise Hooper's novel, The Other Alcott, looks at May Alcott, the golden, youngest sister who was the model for Louisa's Amy but who was so much more than her sister's creation.

Opening with the celebration of the wonderful reviews on the publication of Little Women, May Alcott is depressed and humiliated to find that the critics, so positive about her sister's writing, are critical, in fact dismissive, of her illustrations for novel and she questions her art as a result. Eventually determining that her greatest wish is to be an artist of some acclaim despite the reviews, she vows to carry on, to search out instruction, and to be recognized for her own talent rather than being pigeonholed as Louisa's sister, or worse as the petulant and flighty Amy March. Her own drive to create is no less than her sister's. But the Alcott's circumstances, Louisa's role as sole financial support of the struggling family, and the fact that May is a woman often make it hard for her to pursue her own dreams. She does eventually find opportunities, both in Boston and in Europe to learn and create art even as she tries to temper her envy of her sister's fame and to overcome her reliance on Louisa's financial backing.

Hooper has drawn May not as Amy March but as a determined and ambitious artist who sometimes chafes at the responsibility thrust upon her in regards to her family. She and sister Louisa have a relationship that feels entirely human and realistic, alternately loving and contentious. May can be resentful and feel taken advantage of but her love for her family still shines through. It is clear that while May makes personal sacrifices to tend to her family when she is called upon to do so, she also never stops pushing forward for the thing that is her very lifeblood, painting and drawing. The novel is very much stripped of the romanticism of Little Women and feels very historically real, especially when dealing with poverty and opportunities for women. The depiction of the art scene in Europe and the way that the Academie Francaise dictated public acceptance of art and conferred success on the approved artists was very well done. And May's own journey, personally and artistically is quite an interesting one indeed but the biggest theme of the novel besides May's determination is her relationship with her sister Louisa and how two talented and smart women related to and saw each other, especially in a world that didn't value women's contributions nearly as much as they should have. Fans of Little Women will undoubtedly enjoy this look into the little sister and her own not insignificant accomplishments. For another fictional take on May Alcott, compare this to Little Woman in Blue by Jeannine Atkins as well. ( )
  whitreidtan | Sep 26, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When I received a copy of Elise Hooper’s The Other Alcott to review, I inwardly groaned, another book showing the back of a woman looking off into the distance. I’ve been avoiding those lately. They seem to proliferate. Ms. Hooper’s novel is a prime example for heeding the maxim, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” May Alcott is vividly brought to life and I believe Alcott buffs and art lovers alike will enjoy this book. I did. The Other Alcott is a good blend of history and invention as proven by the story and the interview with the author at the novel’s conclusion. Be sure to read it. It sheds further light on the Alcott’s, the plight of women artists at the time, and the significant research the author conducted for the creation of this novel. I’ve already recommended it to a friend. ( )
  bayleaf | Sep 17, 2017 |
I can't believe that this is author, Elise Hooper's debut novel. It reads like it came from a seasoned professional with many best sellers under her belt.

This book is unique and refreshing to visit the Alcott sisters. The ones who inspired the March sisters from Little Women. As the author pointed out there is not much known about who the real inspiration behind Amy is. I have to tell you that May is nothing like Amy. She is not spoiled. In fact; she is resilient, intelligent, caring, and talented. Plus, she did not go in search of love but love did find her. I enjoyed traveling all over with May from Rome, to London, to Paris.

Actually, reading this book, I did see a bit of a different side of Louisa. I was kind of surprised to found her unsupportive of May and her endeavors. Louisa kept pursuing her dreams until she became a published writer but yet when May wanted to go out and become an artist, she was not as supportive. This book made me a fan. I can't wait to read more from Elise Hooper. ( )
  Cherylk | Sep 13, 2017 |
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