Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
I would say this review contains spoilers, but it's hard to call them spoilers when the book is over 150 years old. But if you really know nothing about this book and don't want to, don't read the rest of this.
For those of you who do not know, "Little Women" was originally two books: "Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy" and "Good Wives". There is an obvious split in the middle of "Little Women" where three years go by with not a word said about them. I must say, I really did not care for the first part when they are children - it dragged on and on and on and on, and they were too perfect as children (even Jo was more good than all the children I know, I dare say) and they were just ... boring. Although the world of the March family is quaint and happy, I find it hard to believe that even the worst children are really very well behaved. Especially good children are even more boring than regular children! The only part of the first part that really interested me is when Meg goes to the party and learns many lessons and Laurie says he doesn't care for her like that.
Beth annoyed the crap out of me, and as far as I could tell she was an utterly useless character (though I feel bad saying that, since she is almost exactly the author's sister, and it just feels wrong to say any real person is a useless character - but I do think in books all characters should have a purpose in the book, unlike life in general).
I had heard she dies (because I watch "Friends") and I must admit I was somewhat disappointed when she didn't (well at first, she does eventually but blah). It sounds horrible, but I really think it would have been an improvement to the book. It's not as if she did much between her recovery and her death, even though there were 6 years between. And also, I think the lessons learned by the other girls due to Beth's illness may have stuck better.
I had also heard that Laurie and Jo do not end up together in the end, and that he ends up with Amy of all people (my least favorite of the sisters, if you don't count Beth, which I don't). When I heard this, I was aghast and upset by it and thought the book ruined. But I kept reading and it turns out I was very happy with that turn of events and how it happened, and I liked the "realness" of Laurie's unrequited love for Jo, Jo's reaction, her decision to leave and give him some time (though it didn't help), his behavior up until he fell in love with Amy... it was all wonderful.
I also especially liked seeing Meg and John at the beginning of their marriage. I think it would benefit many people to read that part of the book. There is a lot of good stuff there, and it rings true.
A lot of people complain about the "Christian" messages. Yes, it's true, there are some fairly religious sections to the book. But you have to realize when it was written. That was very common, and it gives you a sense of the times and how much religion meant to people then. There is also a section when Jo is a nanny with the philosophers going against religion, so it is not as if the author is unaware or unwilling to admit other views exist (of course, religion wins out in the end, here). There is also Jo admitting that she lead a very sheltered life and was completely unaware of the awful things going on in the city around her, and she found the need to go take them all in for her writing.
Overall - I didn't care for the book at first, but it got better and better. It bothers me that some parts of the book are taken almost exactly from the author's life (word for word from her diary some parts, you can find them on the internet, especially dealing with Beth's death). But the lessons learned about love and marriage are timeless and it's certainly worth the read.