Great or Nothing
Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, and Jessica Spotswood
Published March 8, 2022
About Great or Nothing
In the spring of 1942, the United States is reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the US starts sending troops to the front, the March family of Concord, Massachusetts grieves their own enormous loss: the death of their daughter, Beth.
Under the strain of their grief, Beth’s remaining sisters fracture, each going their own way with Jo nursing her wounds and building planes in Boston, Meg holding down the home front with Marmee, and Amy living a secret life as a Red Cross volunteer in London–the same city where one Mr. Theodore Laurence is stationed as an army pilot.
Each March sister’s point of view is written by a separate author, three in prose and Beth’s in verse, still holding the family together from beyond the grave. Woven together, these threads tell a story of finding one’s way in a world undergoing catastrophic change.
A reimagining of Little Women set in the spring of 1942, when the United States is suddenly embroiled in the second World War, this story, told from each March sister’s point of view, is one of grief, love, and self-discovery.
I think the idea of this book is really cool. It seemed (I have zero experience to back this up) pretty thoroughly researched– there were lots of descriptions of clothes, food, and common words or phrases that either fit with other things I knew about the 1940s or felt pretty on point for what I expected from a story set in that era. There were also lots of references to historical facts and events, from the attack at Pearl Harbor to women working in factories and flying planes (not in combat).
So all that made the story feel really immersed in the time period, and I liked that. What I struggled with, though, is that sometimes I felt like the atmosphere or the setting dominated the story. This happened to me especially with Amy’s character, I think, but not exclusively. Her way of thinking and speaking was so steeped in lingo from the period that sometimes I just felt like I didn’t connect with her.
I thought the decision to tell the story beginning after Beth’s death but still include her as an observer was really interesting. Her chapters are written in verse, and often they add something to what’s happening with her sisters. Sometimes they reveal more things about who she was and her own hopes and dreams. I liked those moments a lot.
One of my favorite things about the book is that in this story, Jo finds another writer, a woman who’s goal is to be a war correspondent. They bond over challenges in their relationships with their sisters, writing, and being dissatisfied with what they’re told are the conventional roles of women. I think seeing the connection between those two as writers and women finding where they belong in the world made for a powerful story to read.
On the whole, I’m not sorry I read the book as there are several things I really enjoyed. It wasn’t what I expected, though.
Recommended for Ages 12 up.
Jo and Charlie are lesbians. One minor character is Japanese American.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.
Kissing between boy and girl. Kissing between two girls.
Joe, Meg, Amy, and Beth’s father is an Army Chaplain.
Some racist comments toward a Japanese American girl and about Japanese Americans. Some racist comments about Black soldiers. Two men get into a fight in a hotel ballroom.
Characters often drink champagne. Amy is underage at sixteen.
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