September 17, 2020

Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of)

Written and illustrated by Kathleen Gros
Quill Tree Books (HarperCollins)
272 pp.
Ages 8-13
September 2020
Everyone knows Louisa May Alcott’s story of Little Women, her classic novel about the March sisters set in the 1800s. There's the girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, and their mother whom they call Marmee, and their father who is away in the military. There is also their neighbour Mr. Laurence and his grandson Laurie, as well as a number of family and acquaintances who visit or become part of the March girls' world. As the author and illustrator Kathleen Gros tells us in her subtitle, this is an adaptation of Little Women, sort of, but it is more.
From Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of) by Kathleen Gros
The story begins with thirteen-year-old Jo writing her blog about life with her family. Meg is the oldest and starting high school and tutoring a couple of younger children. The shy Beth is eleven years of age, musically-inclined, and has leukemia. The youngest is the self-centered Amy who loves to draw. Jo really wants to become a writer and, though she thinks she prefers creative writing, she joins the Newspaper Club where she meets Freddie Bhaer (another familiar name from the original Alcott story) who is the student editor. It is this relationship with Freddie that helps Jo identify as gay and come out to her family. 
From Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of) by Kathleen Gros

As Jo develops her writing, continuing to entertain her family with her stories while finding her journalistic voice, the other March sisters face their own challenges. Beth, of course, has her medical issue which requires medication, tests and hospital visits but she also is struggling to learn to play the flute. Meg who is crushing on a boy and wondering if he likes her is also dealing with her tutees who are always on their devices. Young Amy is frustrated with her art teacher who wants to teach the class skills like perspective when Amy would just prefer to draw. With the help of Marmee, who works as a nurse at a children's hospital, and their father with whom they have occasional video chats, as well as a host of characters, the March girls come of age in a contemporary setting.

From Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort of) by Kathleen Gros

By modernizing the story of Little Women to include technology, LGBTQ+ characters, the all-important school milieu and more, Kathleen Gros has honoured the original but made it relevant to today's readers. Beth's scarlet fever would be easily treated by antibiotics today so leukemia, a cancer that has some forms more common to children, replaces it. Jo's original ink and paper writing is now done on computer and gets published online via blogging and in a school newspaper. Even how the Newspaper Club members introduce themselves and share what pronouns they would prefer used is exemplary of how the story is inclusive. This is Little Women but it is more real, relatable and germane for a 2020 audience. Moreover, by creating her story as a graphic novel, Kathleen Gros firmly lands Jo into the present-day, giving us colour and movement, encouraging readers to learn about the March sisters' stories in a version, sort of, that is accessible and visual. 

Much more than an adaptation of Little Women, Kathleen Gros's Jo is a modern and realistic coming-of-age story that broadens the original story and invites all readers to see themselves in it, and learn lessons about being kind and brave and being part of a family.

1 comment: