Review of A Hopeful Heart: Louisa May Alcott Before Little Women

A Hopeful Heart: Louisa May Alcott Before Little Women
by Deborah Noyes
Middle School, High School    Schwartz & Wade/Random    304 pp.    g
10/20    978-0-525-64623-5    $18.99
Library ed.  978-0-525-64624-2    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-64625-9    $11.99

Before he actually had children, Bronson Alcott wondered, “Can parents limit ­outside influences and raise a perfect child?” Well, the answer was no. By the time second daughter Louisa was three and her older sister Anna was four, they were out of control. Louisa was a “brute” in the nursery, Mrs. Alcott was an emotional mess, and family life was a disaster. (Good to know there’s hope for us all!) “Wild and ungovernable,” Louisa threw food and pulled Anna’s hair. As Louisa grew up, she loved racing through the park and sliding down bannisters. But being given freedom to play and dream; growing up in a house full of books; and having such Concord neighbors as ­Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne nurtured the young, passionate girl —­ ultimately readying her to take on the literary world with Little Women. Noyes expertly places Alcott within the context of a chaotic and poverty-stricken family life and a confining and conventional Concord. An idealistic father, an overburdened mother, and three lively sisters provided the models for her characters in Little Women, published when she was thirty-five. Photographs — of Thoreau, Walden Pond, and John Brown — and reproductions of letters, magazine covers, and even a tintype of a Civil War drummer complement the text. Back matter includes an extensive bibliography.

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider
Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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