So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Representation: African American, possibly Asexual (there wasn't an understanding of asexuality during this timeframe so it isn't mentioned by name but is described.)
Topics: Civil War, Freedmen's Colony, Northern Racism, Love, Liberia, Slave Narratives, Authenticity
North Carolina, 1863. As the American Civil War rages on, the Freedpeople's Colony of Roanoke Island is blossoming, a haven for the recently emancipated. Black people have begun building a community of their own, a refuge from the shadow of the "old life." It is where the March family has finally been able to safely put down roots with four young daughters:
Meg, a teacher who longs to find love and start a family of her own.
Jo, a writer whose words are too powerful to be contained.
Beth, a talented seamstress searching for a higher purpose.
Amy, a dancer eager to explore life outside her family's home.
As the four March sisters come into their own as independent young women, they will face first love, health struggles, heartbreak, and new horizons. But they will face it all together.
I love this remix! Previously, when I read and watched Little Women, I enjoyed the story but felt disappointed by the trajectory of most of the characters. In this rendition, not only do I feel like the March family gets a better plot, but more historical context and significance is added. Although each of the characters keep their original nicknames, I love the full names Morrow chose for them like Amethyst for Amy. The multiple point-of-views also helped me connect more to all of the sisters.
This novel adds more nuance to the popular understanding of the Civil War, abolitionists, and racism. The March sisters were formerly enslaved and now live in the Freedmen's colony of Roanoke Island, which is also on shaky ground. Their opportunities are limited despite their good fortune that their family owns a house. It is really cool to see Liberia, a country originally founded in order to get rid of "free blacks" in the United States, connected in this retelling. Roanoke Island and Liberia aren't usually a part of the curriculum for history classes and courses on American History. In fact, this book has inspired me to learn more about Roanoke Island.
I mostly read this as an audiobook, which was helpful for me but I also felt like the narrator didn't switch her voice up enough for me to distinguish between the sisters. When reading this book, please be sure to read the Author's Note as it is powerful and perfectly connects her book to the broader context of today's issues surrounding History and Memory.
So Many Beginnings is a great book for History and English courses. I recommend this novel to everyone!