Book Talk: "So Many Beginnings" by Bethany C. Morrow | October 2021
I am unabashedly in love with the Little Women universe created by Louisa May Alcott. I'm in love with the movie adaptations, although I have yet to watch the latest one; I'm a fan of the book; I'm a fan of the very concept, four sisters who rely on each other and lean on each other and fight with each other and love each other. I'm especially a fan of Jo March, writer and firecracker and absolute legend.
So when I heard that Bethany C. Morrow was writing a fresh new take on the classic story, called So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix, as part of the same Remixed Classics series as A Clash of Steel which I chatted about recently, I knew I absolutely had to read it.
So Many Beginnings takes the original concept and turns it on its head. Instead of a group of Northern white sisters dealing with the Civil War in the early 1860s, this remix focuses on a group of four Southern Black sisters — formerly enslaved — during the middle of the Civil War in 1863.
The girls retain their character archetypes — teacher Meg, writer Jo, sweet Beth, feisty Amy — but they do so while inhabiting Black bodies in a racist world. The book is just...it's mind-blowing, really, in its excellence.
What did I love about So Many Beginnings? What didn't I love! The subtle way Bethany C. Morrow took the existing material and made it her own. The not-so-subtle way she absolutely eviscerated (rightfully so) everyone from the slaveholding whites to the still-racist Northerners and Union soldiers.
There's a truly infuriating character in the book, a white teacher from up North who's come down to the emancipated colony the girls have made their home, whose racism is so ingrained and so...it's micro-aggression upon macro-aggression upon micro-aggression, and she doesn't even realize she's doing it.
That character really caused me to take a beat and reexamine my own thoughts, feelings, and actions, realizing that it's possible to have the best of intentions and still have a white savior complex. The thing about a white savior complex is it automatically assumes that you, the white, are better than others and that they need your salvation.
The thing about the March sisters is they didn't need the white woman's salvation, and Bethany C. Morrow made that explicit in every page of the book.
Another conversation the book had regarded Black men fighting in the Civil War. It was made so clear that life in the Union army was dangerous in a wholly different way for Black men than for white men. Which...I'm ashamed to say I'd never considered, but the second you stop to think about it, it makes sense. It's infuriating and heartbreaking and I loved that conversation being a seamless part of this book, which combines the best of critical conversation with good storytelling.
I love the tweaks made to the original as well. I don't want to give spoilers so I won't share which ones, but let's just say reading this book I felt like Bethany C. Morrow had literally read my mind, figured out all the things about the original that I dislike and would have changed if I'd had the power, and said, "Watch this."
It's a bold claim to say that a remix is better than a classic, because people hoist their classic literature on a pedestal, but I'm gonna make it: when I'm hungering for sister bonds, antiracism, romance, good fun, I'll turn to So Many Beginnings before I'll turn to the original.
My one complaint with this book is that it's 300 pages where I wanted 600. I wanted a whole series. I want a TV adaptation and a movie. I want little figurines of each of the sisters. I want fanfiction and a sprawling universe and —
I need to get ahold of myself. This post is about the book, not the universe i think it should spawn.
This remix of Little Women has EVERYTHING the original does and more. It has the same charm and familial bond, but the framework is different. The conversations are different. The fears and daily struggles are different.
That's a snippet of my Goodreads review of the book. I really, really loved this book, and I hope you'll be inspired to buy a copy, borrow it from your library, listen to the audiobook — do what it takes to inject this story into your brain. It's pure serotonin and I loved it so much.