Set during the American Civil War, Little Women covers just over a year in the life of the March family, a once affluent family who have fallen on hard times since the father went to serve as an Army Chaplain in the war.
His wife and four daughters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are left behind, and despite the hard times which they are now faced with, they find ways to amuse themselves, and always strive to be better people. They take their lonely neighbour Laurie under their wing, and he becomes practically another member of the family.
This book was written for young adults, and I first read it as a teenager. However, upon revisiting it now some years later, I think I actually preferred it second time around. Due to the time it was written, some of the values contained within are somewhat outdated, and there are a few religious overtones which will probably be less relevant to most readers today, but despite this, it remains an endearing and thoroughly enjoyable book.
I grew to care about all of the characters. Each of the four girls is distinctive from the others and each of their personalities shine through. Eldest daughter Meg is the elegant young girl on the cusp of becoming a woman,second daughter Jo is a quick witted tomboy who cares little for fashion and decorum, third daughter Beth is gentle and thoughtful, always thinking of others, and the youngest child Amy is sometimes selfish and vain, but very caring and funny. Laurie is also a terrific character, by turns insolent and mischievous.
Although the book is written in the third person, I felt that the character whose point of view was most closely shown was Jo. This is unsurprising, as Jo was apparently based on the author herself. Indeed, Jo seemed somewhat ahead of her time, with her passion for writing, and her desire to stand on her own two feet.
There is comedy and tragedy in this book, and while one chapter would have me smiling, I actually found myself crying at another chapter.
Some books are called classics with good reason – this is one of them. Highly recommended.
(Note: The next book in the series about the March family is called Good Wives, and is often called volume 2 of Little Women. This review relates only to Little Women, i.e. volume 1 of the story.)