Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019, 256 pages
Juvenile Graphic Novel
A retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy begin their story with a modern look for a modern audience at Christmastime in New York City. The family is struggling, with an exhausted mom (Madison March) who works as a nurse, and faraway dad, who is serving overseas in the military. While the girls lament their lack of means, each has dreams that extend far into the future. Meg lives for fashion and marrying rich (which will no doubt solve her and her sisters’ problems), Jo focuses on writing and social justice (much to the annoyance of those around her), Beth yearns to play music (if only she could get out of her own way), and Amy obsesses over art and video games (but art supplies aren’t cheap). When the sisters meet Laurie, the new boy across the street, everyone is in for something new. But even the kindness of Laurie and his family can’t help Meg with her love life, Jo with her secret, Beth with her illness, and Amy with being the baby of the bunch. This graphic novel is by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo, along with a team of artists.
The authors make several changes to the plot of Little Women to modernize it — for example, Beth, rather than suffering from scarlet fever, instead becomes ill with one of the biggest disease threats to today’s children. Then there’s Jo, who — I’m not counting this as a spoiler because Rey Terciero shared the panes on his Instagram — must decide whether or not to accept herself as gay and then come out to her family. Overall, the authors provide a sound plot — though adult readers may wonder how the family makes out with Beth’s medical bills. Like Little Women, there isn’t so much a storyline as there is watching a family grow over the course of a year through a series of loosely-connected vignettes to emphasize character development.
Because the book is so heavily focused on character development, the characterization of each character must be developed. Terciero and Indigo achieve this to some extent, and probably mostly to the satisfaction of most younger readers, but older kids and adults may find it somewhat lacking. So, too, is the concept of sisterhood and relationships between women. It’s there, and the authors make an attempt, but it does not quite feel genuine. Instead, there’s a sort of sitcom-like sheen on the relationships that feel a bit one-dimensional and inauthentic. With the sisters and their many interests, most readers will find at least one character with whom to identify. However, the authors missed out on an opportunity represent young women interested in STEM. The four interests are decidedly creative in nature, and perhaps a STEM-oriented sister might have felt like forced representation (and, true, another departure from the source text), but it still feels like a missed opportunity. It seems, too, that much of Jo’s sexuality is represented with stereotypes — while they aren’t stereotypes I’ve found to be horrifically untrue, their presence did call to question why, when LGBTQ representation is so lacking in the first place and, when it does appear, often portrays LGBTQ characters in a limited set of ways.
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy maintains the spirit of Little Women which makes it an overall successful adaptation. Despite getting at that spirit, the authors don’t bog down the work in a way that is inaccessible on its own. Fans of Little Women will probably have at least one or two opinions about things that have been changed, but this is a fun graphic novel with enough seriousness to make readers want to savor it. With the characters ranging in age, readers of different ages will easily get different things out of it. And many readers will likely turn to the original story, eager to find out more about the March sisters.
❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤