Belittled Women, by Amanda Sellet

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott somehow escaped my attention in childhood. I’ve seen both the 1994 and 2019 movie adaptations, as well as the stage musical, but I’ve never read the actual book. There’s no urgency to, given how often I’ve seen it adapted, but the story’s sugary sentimentality is appealing. Amanda Sellet must have thought the same thing when she wrote Belittled Women, except her real-life March sisters are some of the most undeveloped, unlikable characters I’ve read of late.

Jo Porter’s mother and sisters run a roadside attraction called Little Women Live!, wherein they become the March family, reenacting classic scenes from the Alcott novel. Jo gets the chance to stretch her wings when a photojournalist and her assistant son come to the house to write a publicity piece. But Jo finds herself also torn between her boy-next-door friend David, and Hudson, the assistant, and not-so-sweet drama ensues.

This book’s premise of a modern family living out one of American literature’s most sentimental stories was intriguing, comforting even. However, it’s hardly a comforting story, since the Porter family really, really sucks.

Meg, the oldest, is dimwitted and flighty and barely makes an appearance in the first half of the book. Jo, the protagonist, is brash and irritable, constantly insisting that she is NOT Jo March (though most people would argue the contrary). And Amy…oh, boy, Amy.

I haven’t read a narcissistic queen bee this obnoxious and selfish since Dylan from Geek Charming. Almost every word out of her mouth was derogatory, mean-spirited, and sometimes even abusive. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities about her, to the point that when the story tries to make her redeemable in the final act, I almost laughed. This girl is nothing but cruel to her sisters, so when she somehow grows a conscience and tries to do better, it is nowhere near earned. I honestly expected her to turn an evil grin after her every scene.

My disgust toward her is certainly not helped by how often she dumps on Beth March. Excuse me, Amy! Beth March is a sweet, selfless, and empathetic little pumpkin and she does not deserve your flack, you witch!

Even the Porter mom (or “Marmee” as she’s called, in Little Women fashion) is kind of ignorant, so lost in her obsession with all things Alcott that she just assumes her daughters love it as much as she. Even though Jo makes her disdain for the family business clear, she acts like it’s one big surprise when Jo finally snaps at her.

In short, the whole Porter house is honestly one boiling vat of misery. And Jo will let you know at every. Single. Turn.

Not a chapter goes by without either Jo reminding her family that she is NOT Jo March, Amy making some snippy comment or cruel jab, or Marmee waxing romantic about the upcoming show season. Meg is nowhere to be found, of course, but that doesn’t stop Jo from reminding you that she’s responsible for her misery too. I sometimes forgot Meg was even part of the story.

Even Jo, who is the most likable of the bunch (though that isn’t saying much), is kind of irritating. Once, when she and her next-door neighbor David are building a cute decorative bridge in the backyard, she taunts David about walking over the tiny little structure. And she does so despite David’s multiple warnings that the bridge is not stable enough. Like, Jo, you can be rebellious, but you can’t be stupid.

Speaking of David.

The book tries to set up a love triangle between Jo, Hudson, and David. While I knew that going in, I didn’t think it would be this flat. Indeed, there is little to no chemistry between any of these characters. It’s also a little awkward that David is Meg’s ex-boyfriend, but that in itself feels pointless. You never learn what David or Meg saw in each other, and they almost never interact. There’s also a stupid plot point about Meg breaking up with David right before prom and stealing their prom tickets. They make a whole drama about it and I’m just wondering, What’s the point?

Jo acts like an idiot for the second time when she, Hudson, and David all attend the same party. She goes to the party as Hudson’s date, but when she finds David sitting in a backyard chair, she decides to wedge herself into the same chair with him, even putting her legs over his lap. Like, girl, are you trying to invite a confrontation? It feels like a really clumsy way of playing out the will-they-won’t-they aspect.

Oh, and Hudson is not off the hook either.

He does not find Jo and David together at the party, but Jo does have to drive him home after he becomes completely inebriated. And, um, he puts himself into an awkward physical position while sitting beside Jo. Like, leaning his head down almost into her lap.

There’s no description of where his hands were, but I was shocked that Jo did not launch him right out of the car.

It’s not the last time Hudson acts like a douchebag in this book (he acts like a downright creep once), but it just further cemented why neither he nor David’s drama with Jo was doing it for me.

But more so, it troubled me how Jo and her sisters had little to no meaningful conversations or connections. Like I said, Meg barely makes an impact because she’s barely in the story, and Amy is such a bitch that you wish she would stab herself with a quill pen. I went through the whole story knowing that there would be some sentimental reunion or confession at the end, and fearing that it would be completely unearned. And it was.

Jo’s drama with Hudson and David takes up pretty much the whole middle of the book, so time for Meg and Amy gets completely nixed.

As you can imagine, all these ingredients combine to pretty much make little to no emotional resonance. We don’t really get any until the very, very end of the book. Like, with less than fifty pages to go.

And the most bullshit part of it is that Jo finds herself in an unfamiliar place, and she starts to yearn for home. Like, Jo, why on God’s green earth would you want to go back to a place where everyone ignores, belittles, and even verbally abuses you? And even more importantly, why do you not DEMAND some kind of constructive change in your home when you return?

Little to no emotional resonance, and no one changes by the end. Those are two pretty big strikes against any book. I’m honestly surprised I pushed through to the end knowing that it would end like that.

But yeah, long story short, Little Women is a treasured classic because the characters are actually likable and have meaningful interactions. Sentimental it may be, but you at least care about the March family and their friends. A soon-to-be classic, this one definitely ain’t.

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