“Jo & Laurie” by Margaret Stohl & Melissa de la Cruz
Source: PenguinTeen in exchange for an honest review
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Re-telling
1869, Concord, Massachusetts: After the publication of her first novel, Jo March is shocked to discover her book of scribbles has become a bestseller, and her publisher and fans demand a sequel. While pressured into coming up with a story, she goes to New York with her dear friend Laurie for a week of inspiration—museums, operas, and even a once-in-a-lifetime reading by Charles Dickens himself!
But Laurie has romance on his mind, and despite her growing feelings, Jo’s desire to remain independent leads her to turn down his heartfelt marriage proposal and sends the poor boy off to college heartbroken. When Laurie returns to Concord with a sophisticated new girlfriend, will Jo finally communicate her true heart’s desire or lose the love of her life forever?
This is likely going to get confusing so here’s some clarification. Book Jo is the Jo March most of us know. She’s the character in Little Women. Real Jo is author of Little Women taking Louisa May Alcott’s place (since LW was based on her family). They might be very similar but they are different people in terms of this story.
The blurring of real and not real was very genuine. Playing ‘what if’ and imagining different scenarios for a version of yourself is very much a game sisters play. I can attest to that. The playful banter of matching up sisters to people felt genuine. Sometimes it is fun to match off people. Occasionally hurt feelings or annoyance are a side effect. Other times, genuine companionship is a side effect as well. I didn’t feel as is the story was disingenuous to (either) Jo’s character to be in this ‘what if’ game.
Real Jo’s struggle was interesting to watch play out. What originally started a fun adventure for her grew to be more than what she expected. She thought some people would enjoy the story of her and her sisters. Real Jo didn’t expect an entire country to hang on to her every word. The pressure was palpable. You could feel how she was torn in a million different ways. She wants to do right by her characters, her sisters, her fans, her publisher, & most importantly, herself. How do you juggle so many opinions though? [I was deeply moved by the author’s note at the end talking about Alcott’s struggle with the pressure & the fact that jumping was something that crossed her mind.]
Was this a perfect sequel to Little Women? No, of course not. Some of the language really doesn’t ‘flow’ as a perfect match to LW. Do I think this is how the characters of this beloved story “really” behaved? Maybe not. I do think this was a great addition to the mythos of the Little Women universe for people’s consideration.
The 2019 movie Little Women wasn’t a perfect adaption of the book (it was pretty darn good though). You know what it did though? It highlighted Amy in a way that I had never seen before and actually made me cheer for her and Laurie. Jo & Laurie follows in those footsteps and makes me see Jo (and by extension Louisa) in a new light. It shows her struggle and shows her as someone who was willing to do everything to take care of those around her. Even though things were tough. Even though she was miserable at something she once loved. It’s cheesy but she ends up taking the advice she’s been giving Meg about being a martyr.
All in all, it was an enjoyable step back into one of my favorite families. It might not be the version of them I know and love but I’ve grown mighty fond of this new crew too.