Four young Black sisters come of age during the American Civil War in So Many Beginnings, a warm and powerful YA remix of the classic novel Little Women by national bestselling author Bethany C. Morrow.
North Carolina, 1863. As the American Civil War rages on, the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island is blossoming, a haven for the recently emancipated. Black people have begun building a community of their own, a refuge from the shadow of the old life. It is where the March family has finally been able to safely put down roots with four young daughters:
Meg, a teacher who longs to find love and start a family of her own.
Jo, a writer whose words are too powerful to be contained.
Beth, a talented seamstress searching for a higher purpose.
Amy, a dancer eager to explore life outside her family’s home.
As the four March sisters come into their own as independent young women, they will face first love, health struggles, heartbreak, and new horizons. But they will face it all together.
I was a little apprehensive about this book, while at the same time desperately wanting to read it, because I’ve greatly enjoyed Bethany Morrow’s other works and Little Women was my absolute favorite book growing up. I can’t even count how many times I read it while dealing with middle school and high school stress. And I can now say without hesitation that this retelling knocks it out of the park.
One thing Bethany Morrow does especially well here is remaining true to the heart of the original story while still crafting it around a different family with a vastly different history and set of needs. Their desires, though, are very familiar. Meg wants a husband and family of her own, Jo wants to write and retains her tempestuous nature, Beth is sweet and gentle and loves to sew, and Amy is headstrong, a bit spoiled, and talented at art (dancing, in this case). But above all of those things is their love for one another and their closeness as a family.
I got hints of Jo being asexual here which really resonated with me and I found it very true to both this Jo and the original Jo. I am glad that this Lorie was willing to let Jo love him in her own way and not try to change her.
I think the choice to turn the March family from a poor Northern family with their father fighting in the Civil War to a formerly enslaved black family fighting to gain their freedom was brilliant. Their struggles and disagreements and love — everything about them really — were given a much deeper meaning and resonance. Beth’s mysterious disease not occurring in white people so of course their doctors were perplexed. The way Amy was spoiled made so much more sense when taken with the fact that the entire March family were trying to give her the childhood none of the rest of them were allowed to have. Jo’s book-in-progress being criticized not because she is a woman but because she dares to write intellectually instead of using the broken English and dialect expected of a formerly enslaved Black woman. The struggles are the same. The meaning and depth in every action and conversation are just. So much deeper. I’m in awe.
That last line of the book was utterly perfect and made me cry it hit so hard. Just. Beautifully crafted.
I also learned SO much while reading this book. I grew up in North Carolina and had no idea the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony even existed. Much as I have recently learned a LOT of things about the history of this country and its treatment of Black people that I never learned growing up.
This is a case where I think the audiobook narrator actually detracts from the story being narrated. This book deserves 5 stars absolutely, but I’m only giving the narrator 3. She spoke too slowly, with a somewhat odd lilt that made me a bit twitchy as I listened. I ended up speeding it up to 1.5x speed which at least made it go faster. Once I gave up on the audio and started reading my enjoyment of the story increased greatly. I wish I’d read it from the start because I think I’d have loved it even more and gotten more out of it.
*Thanks to NetGalley, MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, MacMillan Audio, and Bookish First for providing an e-arc, audio arc, and physical arc for review.