‘Beth and Amy’ (Berkley, 332 pages, $16 trade paperback)
The March Sisters have been blended, drawn and reimagined in more ways than Louisa May Alcott ever could have conceived, but under the pen of veteran novelist Virginia Kantra, a sequel to the sequel of “Little Women” is as timely and important today as was the original in 1868.
In Kantra’s 2019 release, “Meg and Jo (The March Sisters Book 1),” the little women are no longer little and unlike its founding work, the overlap from childhood to womanhood is now nearly complete. Independent and grown up enough to follow their own dreams — and make their own mistakes — plans that include things such as food blogging, homemaking in an upscale subdivision and myriad gigs in a gig economy test not only the elder two March sisters, but the strength of family and sisterhood.
In “Beth and Amy (The March Sister Book 2),” the tests continue, but the younger siblings grab the spotlight — almost literally. Beth, “the good girl of the family,” hooks up with country superstar Colt Henderson and develops a non-symbiotic relationship based on the Grammy-winning songs she’s written, while Amy’s success as a New York City fashion designer is threatened by the pull of family, her sisters and what might have been “one big mistake” during a brief romantic entanglement in Paris.
In developing this well-drawn story, Kantra never shies from tough topics. The girls’ mother, Abby, is separated from their father and issues such as PTSD, self-image, eating disorders and emotional abuse permeate the lives of the Marches.
That this is not nearly as depressing as it sounds is due to the viability of the story Kantra musters. Working from solid source material, the novelist populates a world in which Beth and Amy, Meg and Jo, and others in their orbit face and overcome 21st century challenges and concerns without ever losing the touchstone that family trumps all.
That “family” is a malleable conception here is a solid strength of the novel, and one that not only rings true in an increasingly diverse world, but opens the door for Kantra to travel further down the path from the Massachusetts’ home and kinship welcomed by millions more than a century and a half ago.