Growing up as a book lover in New England, there was no one I revered more than Louisa May Alcott. With Little Women, she gave me a favorite book, a set of characters I’d love for life, and the belief that one day I too could become a writer. As I got older and dipped into what some might call full on Alcott Mania, I came to realize that Louisa wasn’t the only remarkable person in that family. Her father, Bronson, was a revolutionary (if off-beat) educator who hung out with Emerson and Thoreau. Her mother, Abby May, was a suffragette, abolitionist, and social worker. And her youngest sister, May, was a talented artist who studied her craft in Europe, had her work displayed at the Salon, and didn’t fall prey to the notion that she could only choose a career or a family. The first time I visited the Alcott home, Orchard House, I was swept up in the stories of May’s life and enchanted by her sketches that remain on the walls. May lived a life as noteworthy as her famous sister’s, and in Elise Hooper’s debut novel, The Other Alcott, that life is beautifully explored.
The Other Alcott gives us a new and interesting look at the youngest Alcott sister, revealing that she was so much more than the woman who inspired Amy March. Fighting off the shadow of her fictional counterpart, May Alcott follows her desire to be a great artist through a journey that takes her from Boston to London to Paris and Rome. Navigating friendships, budding romances, sibling rivalry, and the struggle to be taken seriously as a woman in the art world, May forges a path to the life she always imagined, fueled with hard work, persistence, and talent. The novel dives into May’s complicated relationship with Louisa, her passion for her work, and her yearning for a life beyond her role as a daughter and sister. The Other Alcott is the story of a thoroughly modern, relatable woman who steers the wheel of her extraordinary life, and I loved going along for the ride.
One of May Alcott’s greatest desires was to be thought of as someone other than the spoiled Amy March, and Elise Hooper does her subject beautiful justice by bringing May to life in a way that is fresh, vibrant, and utterly compelling. As much as I’ve read about the Alcotts (and believe me, I’ve read a lot), this story felt entirely new to me, and I was swept up in May’s life from page one. I loved diving into the complexities of May and Louisa’s relationship—all of the love, hurt, rivalry and understanding that makes up the messiness of siblinghood. The historical details of Boston and Europe submerged me in time and place, but take away the carriages and dresses and you’ve got a tale that’s still completely relevant today. At its heart, The Other Alcott is the story of a woman who wants to experience all that life has to offer, and that’s a story that will win me over every time.
Fans of Little Women will love unveiling the “real-life Amy March” and learning more about how the entire Alcott family was affected by the Louisa’s iconic novel and rise to fame. Even those who aren’t acquainted with the March sisters, however, won’t be able to resist this fascinating novel about a remarkable woman. I’m thrilled that this is Elise Hooper’s debut, and I can’t wait to see what comes from her next.