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Even people who have never read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and its two sequels (Little Men and Jo's Boys) probably have at least a vague memory of hearing about the March girls–Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy–whose father is away serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Civil War and who often struggle to put bread on the table. Meg, the oldest sister, follows a conventional life for the time by marrying young and bearing twins. Jo, the rebel, forges a career as a writer. Beth is the homebody, sweet and uncomplaining. And Amy, the youngest sister, has artistic ambitions but surrenders them to marry the son of a wealthy man.
For all their realistic feel, the events in Little Women turn out mostly to be the product of its author's imagination. This is nowhere more true than in Alcott's portrayal of Amy, a fictionalized version of her youngest sister, May. In Little Women in Blue: A Novel of May Alcott (She Writes Press, 2015), Jeannine Atkins reintroduces us to the story of May's life, focusing on her persistence against the odds, her refusal to accept the need to choose between career and family or settle for a genteel life in poverty, and her careful balancing of her own yearning to paint against the onslaught of domestic demands. From this richly detailed exploration of rivalry and sisterhood, we gain a new appreciation for an extraordinary woman, celebrated in her day but since obscured by her more famous sibling. May was, in the language of our own time, determined to "have it all." Read this book to discover whether she succeeded.