So, this book is by one of my favorite authors (Gloria Whelan) and about another one of my favorite authors (Louisa May Alcott). Of Whelan’s works, I’ve read (in order of liking) Once on This Island, Angel on the Square, and Homeless Bird. (She and Linda Sue Park were my favorite discoveries of 2013 in children’s authors.) Of LMA’s, I’ve read Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, An Old-Fashioned Girl (as of last week), and Little Women.
Now, let me tell you: LMA is hysterical. Everything I’ve read of hers has a cheerful, hilarious way of describing people (and events) in a way that pokes fun at the ridiculous ones and holds up the good ones (similar, in a way, to Jane Austen’s treatment of the absurd Mrs. Bennet). What I was so impressed with in this epistolary novel of Whelan’s was her ability to capture Alcott’s style.
In Fruitlands, Whelan takes material from Alcott’s actual journal and forms it into a full story of the events of the Fruitlands Farm experiment. This excerpt basically sums it up:
“Mother says our diaries ought to be a record of pure thoughts and good actions. She and Father often peek into our diaries to see that it is so. Yet Father tells us that we must be honest in our thoughts. I don’t see how the two fit together. I am resolved to keep two diaries, one to share with Mother and Father, and this one which shall be my honest thoughts.”
So you see the high ideals, and then you see the actual events and outcomes. It’s simply uproarious. Also, I love Louisa because she thinks she’s being so bad when, in all honesty, it’s only sometimes that she is bad, and many times that the adults just tell her she’s been bad because they’re absurd. She’s also the kind of child who asks those probing, insightful questions that show adults how ridiculous they are.
A few favorite excerpts:
- “There is also Mr. Bower, who has a great love of nature… The strange thing about him is that he believes clothes are a hindrance to the growth of the spirit. Mother is very firm and says he must wear clothes when he is about, so he spends time shut up in his room letting his spirit grow. William looked through the keyhole and reported that Mr. Bower was indeed in a state of nature!”
- When one of their members designs very unattractive outfits of the girls: “We wear voluminous pantaloons, so large we might easily hide a cow in each leg.”
- When they make a shower by the stream, and a minnow lands on one of the girl’s heads mid-shower. After that, “Father poured the rest of the water through a sieve.”
- “Father says that we must read to find characters whom we wish to imitate… I must confess that I like villains just as well. It really makes you want to turn the pages when you are hoping that something bad will finally happen to evil people.” (Oh, the brutal honesty of children!)
- They’re supposed to live on just fruits and veggies, but the girls are getting so thin that Mother buys nuts. Mr. Lane, ever the strict one, says, “Self-denial is the road to eternal life.” Mother says, “If we are to die of starvation, we will find the road to eternal life soon enough.” (Love her!!!)
And, on a more serious note:
- “I have hidden in my leafy bower for a half hour… I know I ought to be helping Mother to air the bedding, but there is something in me that makes me want to hide away and just be by myself. When I am with my sisters, whom I love dearly, I have trouble remembering I am Louisa. Being with other people nudges me first one way and then another until I hardly recognize myself. When I write my journal, putting down my thoughts, I find myself again.”
- “Mr. Lane then talked with us upon the subject that all men are equal. I was rude and impertinent, for I asked Mr. Lane if we are all equal, why should he always be the one to tell us what to do?” (Perceptive children: the frustration of all adults.)
So much to love, both in seriousness and in humor. Read it!