With Beth & Amy (Berkley), the sequel to the popular Meg & Jo, bestselling author Virginia Kantra delivers a gratifying page-turner about the other two sisters from the beloved Louisa May Alcott classic, Little Women: the one who dies and the one who is vilified.

The happy occasion of Jo’s wedding to Eric Bhaer brings Beth back from Nashville and Amy from New York. Both have become successful in their own right. Beth is a sought-after singer/songwriter, and Amy an entrepreneur and fashion designer. Being home, however, highlights issues in their lives that demand attention. Beth wrestles with her lifestyle choices, realizing she is trapped and longing to break free. Amy must confront her past and the one secret that could forever change her relationship with Jo. 

This book is long overdue. It is about time that Beth and Amy get serious and equal treatment. The various movie adaptations focus on Beth’s death, even though most of Little Women is about her life. Amy continues to endure the wrath of fans but has begun to find redemption in Greta Gerwig’s award-winning movie adaptation. Kantra breaks significant new ground with both characters.

TWO SISTERS AS DIFFERENT AS THEY ARE DEVOTED

Beth has always been my favorite but rarely is she taken seriously. I applaud Kantra for taking the time to dig deep and tell a story of Beth that not only makes perfect sense but reveals a far more complex character. In an interview with the author (see Q&A below — warning: spoiler alert), Kantra admits that she struggled greatly with Beth, trying to flesh out a young woman whom Alcott had portrayed as a saint. It is not until Kantra finds something of herself in the character that Beth finally emerges: “I was at least halfway through writing Beth & Amy when I looked at all her behavior and thought … Oh. I know that girl. I was that girl, ” she says.

Amy is engaging and likable despite her obvious faults, or maybe because of them. She is street smart, saucy and observant with a good sense of humor; she can also be thoughtful and considerate. Amy views the world through a dreamy artist’s eye but applies a practical application of her talent. Much of her story revolves around the slow burn between her and Trey (Laurie). The relationship encounters many obstacles, including Trey’s lingering feelings for Jo and Amy’s doubts about Trey’s love for her. A minor character in Meg & Jo, Trey is a fully developed player in Beth & Amy.

One of my favorite parts of this book is Kantra’s attention to the sibling dynamic, a core element of Little Women. As role models, the older March sisters set the bar quite high. Speaking for Beth and herself, Amy sums up their parts succinctly: “All our lives, we’d been paired and compared, the angelic middle child and the spoiled baby of the family never quite living up to the expectations of our parents or the example of our older siblings.” Amy’s understanding of the dynamic allows her to see what the rest of the family is missing — that Beth needs an advocate. Additionally, she is not afraid to be blunt with her older sister. While Jo is Beth’s champion in Little Women, Amy takes over that role in Beth & Amy.

DEEPER THAN JUST A MODERN REINTERPRETATION

Kantra does a terrific job of weaving key moments from Little Women into the story. One example is the Castles in the Air, where the girls reveal their wishes for their lives. In Little Women, this scene takes place in the garret; in Beth & Amy, the girls build sandcastles on the beach with Trey and dream of their futures. In another instance, the shaming that Amy receives at school over the limes is updated to 21st-century humiliation, resulting in long-ranging consequences.

A subplot of Beth & Amy is the author’s treatment of Marmee and the Rev. March. Readers of Meg & Jo recall that their marriage differs from how Alcott portrays it. Kantra explores this relationship further, revealing its complexities by reimagining both characters. Her Marmee is not warm and fuzzy but practical and stoic. “Don’t fuss” is her motto. The Rev. March more resembles Bronson Alcott — self-absorbed and “saintly” to a fault, always ready to help others while disengaged from his own family. His fear of intimacy with the ones he loves most is at the heart of the problem.

I couldn’t wait to dig into this book each day and was sorry when it ended. Beth & Amy is a most satisfying read; Virginia Kantra left the best for last.

Q&A WITH VIRGINIA KANTRA

Q: Your knowledge of Little Women is amazing! How many times have you read it?

A: Honestly, I lost count of the number of times I read Little Women even before I started writing Meg & Jo and Beth & Amy. My grandmother gave my sister and me an abridged version of the book when I was about ten. My own much used, abused copy — peppered with Post-It notes and falling apart at the seams — is the Centennial edition, with its charming Jessie Willcox Smith illustrations. When I bought it, I still used bookplates in my favorite books. It’s dated 1974, so …

Q: What inspired your take on Beth? What did you have to do research-wise to get into her head as you did? Colt Henderson’s behavior in the book really points out Beth’s control issues (or lack of control over her life).

A: Originally, I thought Beth would be the hardest character to relate to. She’s so good! I considered making her agoraphobic, but that didn’t quite work with the storyline in the previous book, so I thought — anxiety. She still wasn’t coming together for me as a character, though. 

I was at least halfway through writing Beth & Amy when I looked at all her behavior, her drive to be good, to be perfect, to be loved, her fear of growing up, her struggle with autonomy and control and thought … Oh. I know that girl. I was that girl. Well, damn it. Because [TRIGGER WARNING/SPOILER] I also had issues with eating disorders in high school and college, and I did not want to be that girl again. [END SPOILER]

So Beth was still hard to write, not because I didn’t relate to her, but because I did. For research, I hope I did just enough to “do no harm” for readers dealing with issues of their own.

Q: By any chance was the character of Beth’s friend Dan inspired by Frank Vaughn’s invalid brother in the “Camp Lawrence” chapter of the original novel?

A: Beth’s friendship with Dan is based in part on Frank Vaughn in Little Women, but the character was inspired by Dan Kean in Little Men. (I always loved Dan and hated his fate in Jo’s Boys, so this was my chance to give him a happy ending.)

Q: I find it interesting that it is Amy who is the most helpful to Beth, rather than Jo. What made you decide to go in that direction?

A: I’m very different from my sister. (So, so different.) But when life sucks, we show up for each other. I wanted to show that dynamic — sisters who aren’t best friends, but have each other’s backs always. 

And then of course there’s the bond Beth and Amy share as younger sisters growing up in the shadow of their well-defined and accomplished older sisters. Amy, more than maternal Meg or Beth’s champion, Jo, can understand the insecurities that drive Beth.

Q: Abby, the March sisters’ mother, is quite different from Alcott’s mother, Abba, in that she conceals her emotions and is quite stoic. Why did you decide to portray her in that fashion?

A: I actually think the real-life Abba was pretty stoic. Look at what she put up with from her husband, famous educator, Transcendentalist philosopher, and crappy provider Bronson. She worked hard and, in Louisa’s own words about her mother, “always did what came to her in the way of duty and charity.” 

But the seed for my Abba/Momma really came from these lines from Little Women

“I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo, but I have learned not to show it, and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do so.” …

“Mother, are you angry when you fold your lips tight together and go out of the room sometimes, when Aunt March scolds or people worry you?” asked Jo.

So there’s that. Also, the women in my own family are not encouraged to make a fuss. I wasn’t drawing only on Louisa’s real life for inspiration.

Q: The relationship between Trey and Amy is quite complicated (far more so than in Little Women). Can you tell me more about this?

A: The first time (or ten), I read Little Women, I was convinced Laurie and Jo were meant to be together. They’re best friends. She defends him to his grandfather. He kisses her! It wasn’t fair he married Amy, who seems to get everything without even trying. 

But we mostly see their romance through the lens of Jo/Louisa, right? Not to disrespect one of my idols, but there was a lot Louisa didn’t know about romantic relationships. So I approached Trey/Amy from Amy’s perspective. Amy adores and admires Trey, but she also has to deal with his history with Jo and her own feelings about coming second to her sister. 

Even in Little Women, Amy grows and becomes at least an equal, if not the dominant, partner in that relationship. She doesn’t mother Trey the way Jo does. She insists that he grow up — that he live up to his potential — and yet she also accepts and appreciates what he offers her.


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New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra is the author of thirty novels. Her stories have earned numerous awards including two Romance Writers of America’s RITA (R) Awards, and two National Readers’ Choice Awards. Her work includes the popular Dare Island series, the Children of the Sea series and, in e-book format, The MacNeills stories. Meg and Jo, a contemporary novel inspired by Little Women, received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and the American Library Association’s Booklist and was praised by People Magazine. Book two in the March Sisters series, Beth and Amy, is now on sale! 

Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of three (mostly adult) children, Virginia lives in North Carolina. She is a firm believer in the strength of family, the importance of storytelling, and the power of love. Her favorite thing to make for dinner? Reservations. A popular speaker, Virginia regularly offers workshops to writers’ groups and has participated in Winston Salem’s Bookmarks Festival; the North Carolina Literary Festival; and Duke University’s “Unsuitable” event series hosted by the Forum for Scholar and Publics. She loves talking with readers.