Great or Nothing by Jennifer McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, & Jessica Spotswood

Book Blurb:

A reimagining of Little Women set in the spring of 1942, when the United States is suddenly embroiled in the second World War, this story, told from each March sister’s point of view, is one of grief, love, and self-discovery.

In the spring of 1942, the United States is reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the US starts sending troops to the front, the March family of Concord, Massachusetts grieves their own enormous loss: the death of their daughter, Beth.

Under the strain of their grief, Beth’s remaining sisters fracture, each going their own way with Jo nursing her wounds and building planes in Boston, Meg holding down the home front with Marmee, and Amy living a secret life as a Red Cross volunteer in London–the same city where one Mr. Theodore Laurence is stationed as an army pilot.

Each March sister’s point of view is written by a separate author, three in prose and Beth’s in verse, still holding the family together from beyond the grave. Woven together, these threads tell a story of finding one’s way in a world undergoing catastrophic change. 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own, and I am writing a voluntary review.

AnnaScott’s Review:

This is such an intriguing concept. A beloved classic set during World War II? Perfect. Unfortunately, while the idea is perfect the execution was not.

Let’s start with the pros. I loved how this book was written, with a different author writing a different sister. Their writing styles really meshed well together, and I honestly couldn’t even tell that it was coming from different people. I especially loved the poems that were written from Beth’s perspective (presumably from heaven, definitely from beyond the grave). They were beautiful and poignant and in incredibly haunting at times. In addition to this, the setting just fit really well with the March family. Hearing about Meg put on lipstick or plant a victory garden felt completely normal.

The second part I loved is that we get to see more of Amy and Laurie’s relationship. I feel like this gets skipped over a lot in the book and movie adaptations, and so I liked that we actually get to see their relationship as it progresses (plus they’re really cute together in general, so I’m always up for them to get more screen time).

Where this book lost me was in how it represented the March sisters (warning: significant spoilers ahead). The whole reason that we love Little Women is because of the strong family bonds that it represents. However, in this book, Beth’s death drives the sisters apart instead of bringing them together, and they spend more time focusing on their individual love interests than they spend in reconciling with their sisters. Jo felt especially out of character, though this may have been largely due to the fact that she is portrayed as queer. Personally, I feel like this change to her character didn’t fit, and felt like it was included more for the shock factor than for anything else. Also, I genuinely missed Professor Bhaer.

The second problem I had was that the book is four hundred pages long, and yet nothing really happened. Amy’s was the only plot line that had any form of action or really anything resembling the traditional narrative arc. Meg and Jo’s stories felt more like a-day-in-the-life style, focusing on their emotions instead of their actions or anything going on around them. When I finished the book I thought surely it had only been 250 or so pages with the amount of plot it contained.

Finally, the ending was just off. I felt like with all of the tension between the three sisters, there should have been a longer, more meaningful conclusion and not just a phone call. Their reconciliation was the main plot, and so the brief conclusion felt particularly lacking as a result.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read, but plot and character building could have used some more work.


One comment

  1. Great review! It’s so tough when a book has such a solid premise but fails to deliver. But glad to see there were at least a few redeeming qualities!

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