Book Review: So Many Beginnings

I didn’t know what to expect when I first saw that there was a new retelling of the classic Little Women. I rarely read classic retellings (I tend to stick with fairytale ones), but something about Macmillan’s new remix retellings series really caught my attention… And I’m glad that it did. Bethany C. Morrow’s retelling So Many Beginnings  is definitely a treat for today’s audience.

Huge thanks to Feiwel & Friends for gifting me an Advanced Reader Copy for my honest review.

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.

For me personally, Morrow’s writing style was at the forefront of my enjoyment of this story. It truly felt like I was reading a classic novel written at the same time as the original. It flowed beautifully and really brought the Freedman’s Colony of Roanoke to life. At times I felt that I was actually walking alongside Jo, instead of merely reading about what she was seeing. However, this did have some impact on the overall pacing of the story. I enjoy wonderful prose but not when it comes at the expense of plot, which was sometimes the case here. I do feel that overall plot is where the original shines more.

The March sisters once again take center stage in this novel. I did enjoy the different paths that Morrow decided to take with each girl. While Jo was still very much a passionate writer, she instead focuses her writing on shedding light on the plight of slavery and the recently freed. I really enjoyed seeing Jo as social justice warrior. It definitely matches her personality and brings more focus to her character. Once again I’m not thrilled by Meg. She’s always been a very meh to me, with little personality. And while we do have a little more insight to her thoughts here, I am still not completely sold on her as being an interesting character. For me, I think Beth is the one that really shines here. She actually has a storyline that goes far beyond being sickly and meek (not to mention the big spoiler). I really enjoyed getting to know her more and finding out what she was really passionate about and how that affects her journey. I think she was actually the bravest one of the entire family. Amy was another bright spot in the story. She lost her previously annoying personality and instead was funny and charming. I actually can admit to enjoying her story the most… Miracles do happen!

They're only ever speaking for us, and about us. Rarely with us.

For me, I think the greatest part of this retelling is the new setting of Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island and the impact that has on the lives of the March family. I admit to never having heard of this real life town and it was both a fascinating and important spot to have this story revolve around. I am always looking to learning and experiencing something new and Morrow was able to give me that here. It brought to life new aspects of the Civil War that I had never really sat down and thought about (your privilege is showing, Larkin…). It was effortlessly woven into how its impact affected the thoughts, ideas and lives of the women but especially Jo. I appreciated how it still resonates with us now and is just as important in how we approach the current social justice movement.

My biggest issue with this book revolves around the pacing. I felt that the plot took a really long time to develop and then was very rushed at the end. I think the first half of the book could have benefitted from some more editing. It seemed like a lot of buildup for a really quick payoff, when I only wanted more of the girls journey later on. I do think the main plot was where this story fell in comparison to the original. This may be less of an issue for some people, but for me, I thrive on plot and need it be fully engaged with a book. So while I did enjoy the story for the most part, this was where it did lose me somewhat.

Final Verdict: 3.5/5 Stars

Have you read So Many Beginnings yet? If so, what are your thoughts on the story?  Is this book on your TBR? Do you like to read retellings? If so, do you prefer classics or fairytales?