The Other Alcott
September 2017 Indie Next List
— Dawn Rennert, The Concord Bookshop, Concord, MA
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A People Magazine and POPSUGAR pick!
“[May's] adventures illuminate the world of intrepid female artists in the late 1800s […] The Other Alcott comes alive in its development of the relationship between Louisa and May.” --The New York Times
Elise Hooper’s debut novel conjures the fascinating, untold story of May Alcott—Louisa’s youngest sister and an artist in her own right.
We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May.
Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.
Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?
So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”
“Elise Hooper’s thoroughly modern debut gives a fresh take on one of literature’s most beloved families. To read this book is to understand why the women behind Little Women continue to cast a long shadow on our imaginations and dreams. Hooper is a writer to watch!”—Elisabeth Egan, author of A Window Opens
Praise For The Other Alcott: A Novel…
— New York Times
“Hooper is especially good at depicting the complicated blend of devotion and jealousy so common among siblings… a lively, entertaining read.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“A fascinating concept, and just the way to kick off your celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women.”
— Historical Novel Society
“[...] this title is not to be missed by the classic’s many fans who will want to get an insider’s look at the real people who inspired the March family.”
— Library Journal
“More than ever, we need books like this – in celebration of a woman overlooked by history, one whose story helps shed light on our own contemporary search for love, identity and meaning.”
— Tara Conklin, New York Times bestselling author of The House Girl
“To read this book is to understand why the women behind Little Women continue to cast a long shadow our imaginations and dreams. Hooper is a writer to watch!”
— Elisabeth Egan, author of A Window Opens
“In The Other Alcott, Elise Hooper has crafted a sweeping and deeply personal tale [...] You will never look at Little Women or the Alcott family the same way again.”
— Laurie Lico Albanese , author of Stolen Beauty
“An atmospheric and engaging read, The Other Alcott widens the Alcott family spotlight to position the charismatic, artistic May as a rightful equal to famed Louisa. Hooper skillfully draws the reader into the complicated, competitive dynamic between two sisters determined to master their work and love each other.”
— Joy Callaway, author of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society and Secret Sisters
“The Other Alcott will also appeal to readers who have never read “Little Women” but have an interest in the role of women in history.”
— Charleston Gazette-Mail
William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062645333, 432pp.
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
About the Author
A native New Englander, Elise Hooper spent several years writing for television and online news outlets before getting an MA and teaching high-school literature and history. She now lives in Seattle with her husband and two daughters. Previous novels include The Other Alcott and Learning to See.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. At the end of Part 1, when Alice tells May that “a thinking woman…sounds dangerous,” what does she mean? What made a “thinking woman” dangerous in the late 1800s?
2. How does May change over the course of the story? What moments mark critical turning points in her journey?
3. What is your perception of the relationship between Louisa and May? How did Louisa’s financial support of May affect their feelings toward each other?
4. What were the challenges that women faced while studying art? How were these challenges different in Boston and in Europe?
5. When May marries Ernest suddenly, do you think it’s because as Louisa says, “she’s unmoored?” What do you think contributed to May’s quick decision to marry?
6. Louisa appears to send conflicting messages about May’s marriage to Ernest—she discourages her from doing it, but then sends a substantial check as a wedding present—how do you think she felt about May’s decision to marry?
7. Between their beliefs on education, abolitionism, women’s suffrage, amongst other causes (Bronson was also vegetarian), the Alcotts were viewed as radicals and seen as unconventional. What do you think it was like to grow up as part of this family? As the youngest family member, how difficult do you think it was it for May to grow up in this family? In what ways does she seem to forge her own identity, separate from that of her family?
8. What do you think it would be like to have a family member write a thinly-veiled account of your life? Since May doesn’t think Little Women was a favorable portrayal of her, how would that shape her relationship with her family?
9. Louisa struggles with the tension that exists between the success of Little Women and feeling trapped by being famous for something that she didn’t really want to write. Did you empathize with her feelings? What would it be like to become famous for something you resented?
10. At the end of the novel, the author provides a Postscript with more information about all of the characters. Was there anything in there that surprised you?
11. Of the two sisters, Louisa is infinitely more famous. Were you surprised by anything you learned about her in this novel? Were any of your previous impressions of her challenged by this new information?
12. Louisa remains dutiful to her family to the end and continues to write stories that the market welcomes so that she earn money to support her family while Mary Cassatt breaks from the establishment creates work that satisfies her? Which character can you relate to more? Do you understand the motivations behind both women?