24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: biographical fiction

Abby Reads: The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl

The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl
Chronicle Books, 2015, 272 pages
Young Adult Historical Fiction

In The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela McColl, readers are brought to 19th Century Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa May Alcott is surrounded by strong women in the form of her mother and sisters and philosophy from the mouths of her father and his friends, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. As a part of the Underground Railroad, Louisa and her family sometimes house former slaves on the run. When Louisa’s mother travels to New Hampshire in search of work to support the family for the summer, George, one such slave in search of refuge, needs shelter while he waits for his family to join him in the North before continuing on his journey. Louisa takes on the responsibility of keeping him hidden and communicating with another piece of the railroad network. Things aren’t so easy as a slave catcher in search of a monetary reward shows up and threatens Louisa and her family. To make matters worse, an old friend, Fred, has returned and brought with him new affections for Louisa, who just wants to focus on her writing and becoming an adult.

The Revelation of Louisa May is an entirely charming novel with a similar tone and style to Alcott’s most famous work, Little Women. The prose is both homey and beautiful, as if light dances through it on a pretty spring day. Despite some of the more difficult themes in the book such as slavery, poverty, and murder, McColl describes Alcott’s world with inviting and warm language while bringing to life an engaging plot with fascinating characters.

While many of the characters have somewhat two-dimensional personalities, their motivations are always crystal clear and unwavering in their strength, which serves to heighten conflicts. This is especially the case when fundamental motivations of characters are at odds. Louisa May’s characterization is true to what history has suggested (which I particularly enjoyed as someone who visited the Alcott home in Concord) and readers will be none too surprised to see many parallels between the fictionalized Louisa May and her real-life fictional counterpart, Jo March. In one tense moment toward the end of the novel, it appears that Louisa may abandon the characterization built up to that point as she ignores a rather anti-feminist sentiment which Fred expresses (as an aside, please stop telling women to “calm down.”). Louisa ultimately responds as readers and those who are familiar with the real Alcott would expect, an excellent example of McColl’s grasp and knowledge of Louisa and her life.

As Louisa runs about the town, Concord is as lively as the title character. With plenty of descriptions and atmospheric language, McColl draws readers into the world of 19th Century Concord with grace and ease. McColl’s background in history pays off with her attention to detail and excellent use of dialog to help set the historic scene.

The plot of The Revelation of Louisa May is, perhaps, a bit far-fetched, especially given that Louisa is all of fifteen during the events of the novel. However, the narrative provides a fun mystery along with comfortable-yet-elegant prose and well-researched characters and scenes while introducing some of the more upsetting topics of Louisa’s life and the world around her to her young fangs in a delicate manner. This absorbing and charismatic little book is a great companion to Alcott’s own work or, if you can swing it, a visit to her home in modern Concord. If you’re looking for a pleasant spring or summer read, this is it.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Maud by Melanie Fishbane

Maud by Melanie Fishbane
Penguin Teen, 2017, 400 pages
YA Biographical Fiction

I received this eBook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Maud will be available for purchase April 25, 2017 (today!).

Before L. M. Montgomery was the best-selling author of Anne of Green Gables and other works, she was a young woman living on Prince Edward Island. Drawing from Montgomery’s journals, letters, and other artifacts, Melanie Fishbane brings Montgomery to life in her biographically-inspired work of fiction, Maud. Beginning in her early teen years on Prince Edward Island, Maud takes its title character on a journey to the west and on a journey to adulthood. As she encounters family relations, friendships, and romantic entanglements, Maud learns about herself and what it will take to become who she wishes to be.

Although the story is in the third person, Fishbane employs a prose style similar to what was common in Montgomery’s time. The language is simple and carries an innocent air along with it, helping to build the slow, small-town scene which Maud inhabits. This sometimes causes the plot to crawl at a pace that seems slower than necessary, which is only emphasized by a plot structure that heavily relies on thickly-characterized individuals. Fishbane’s attention to the detail of each character makes each evolution fascinating to watch. Maud’s relationship with Will, her second love interest, is particularly fascinating as Will’s demeanor is more mature than most other teenage characters in the story and, while Maud regularly compares him to her first love, the circumstances of the relationship among other things makes whatever love triangle that might exist seem fresh and new.

Aside from the usual relationship woes many teenagers face, Maud is also in conflict with her future and those around her who wish to stifle any chance she has at the future she wants. Though Fishbane’s approach to this central conflict makes it seem more true to life, it’s not clear until the very end whether Maud’s desire to write or to teach is the true conflict. While she wants both and anyone at all familiar with Montgomery knows how her writing desires turn out, which is the primary want is ambiguous until the conflict is solved.

Another conflict, this one relational, is Maud’s experience with her step-mother. As if out of a fairy tale, Maud finds her step-mother to be over-demanding, cruel, and selfish. There are moments of light and kindness in the new Mrs. Montgomery’s personality, but this is one conflict that is never resolved and Fisbane refrains from speculating on the why, for the most part. Is Mrs. Montgomery jealous of the attention her husband affords his daughter? Is she simply prickly from pregnancy hormones? Is there some other issue stemming from the nearness in the two women’s ages that is causing a problem? The root of Mrs. Montgomery’s attitude toward Maud is never truly explained and, while certainly in reality Maud may never have discovered the reason, a fictional narrative of her life is the perfect place to at least make some leading guesses.

Maud is, overall, charming. Though the writing style is perhaps more appropriate for a younger audience than the audience who would find interest in the novel’s content, it’s a wonderful way to incorporate Maud’s personality and to articulate the lifestyle Maud and her contemporaries experienced. Fishbane’s research is evident throughout the book, creating a mostly-satisfying
presentation of Montgomery’s life and leaving readers with a hunger for more, whether of Maud herself or the results of her work.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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