Meg and Jo: A Contemporary Retelling of Little Women. Virginia Kantra. Penguin Publishing Group. December 2019. pb, 400 pp.; ISBN: 9780593100349.
The March sisters each have a unique personality that thrilled readers in the renowned novel, Little Women. In this contemporary retelling, Meg is still doing good things for everyone, Jo is still hot-tempered and independent, Amy is still stylish and Beth is still shy but ultra-loving to all around her. They grew up on a farm in North Carolina, with their father still serving as a military chaplain and their mother handling home and the farm business. However, Meg is now married to John, a former teacher, and has two children. Jo had moved to New York City, worked for a newspaper until she was laid off and now works as a prep cook in a famous restaurant, Gusto, and writes a food blog called Hungry that is growing with followers who interact. Her dream is still to be a great writer but life takes these two eldest sisters in different directions for the duration of this novel. Amy is involved in the world of fashion and Beth is involving in musical performances, albeit as a neophyte writer and singer.
This story is definitely a romance between Meg and John. Both are super-busy but have initially little time to talk about what they really want out of life as well as what they expect of each other. Shaped by their past in which the father did not take much part in family life, they learn through challenges how to truly listen to and talk to each other. This makes their love very real and appealing to readers.
Jo begins to have a sexual relationship with her boss, the famous chef and restaurant owner, Eric Bhaer. However, after he discovers she has been writing about his cooking on her blog, he responds with fury and Jo quits working for him. It’s just as well she returns to North Carolina because her Mom is about to have back surgery for damage done by a bone infection and will need a lot of help during her rehabilitation from that operation.
Beth and Amy also come in and out of the story, along with rich but nasty Aunt Phee and they all bond strongly in the face of so many challenges. Jo’s old boyfriend Trey is still around and wants to marry Jo but he is just a very good friend to her, nothing more. It provides for some funny as well as tense moments. Family meals are a joy for all to share and it’s clear that these meals are just one manifestation of the very close bond that exists in this family.
While this retelling may not bear all the contrived mushiness of the original tale, Meg and Jo is a contemporary love story and family drama that is uniquely endearing and a grand read. Highly recommended reading! This reviewer is looking forward to the next book in this series which will be Amy and Beth! Happy reading, all!