It was three o’clock in the morning when my mother caught me. My lights were on–I knew I was well past my usual bedtime, but I couldn’t go to sleep. The arch sisters–Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth–would not let me.
Little Women was the first book that I stayed up after bedtime to finish. My mother stood in the doorway and caught me. “Oh, Little Women,” she said with a sigh of great affection and, more importantly, permission. She kissed me on the forehead with a look that said she knew exactly what I was feeling. One night a long time ago she had had to stay up to find out what happened to the March sisters, too. As she turned on an extra light for me and I went back to the pages, I felt something else: a step closer to my mom.
Books were a big part of my family’s routine. Mom and Dad read to me and my sister every night. This was the first time I realized that books were part of our family history. They bound us together in the experience of reading them together. They also bound us together wherever or whenever we were. Mom had read that book when she was young, but in that moment, looking at me reading it, she still felt the “book feels” from all those years ago.
Little Women is a story about family, women, and sisters.
Jo was the first woman writer character I had ever read about. Her choosing New York and Frederich over her hometown and Laurie was a revelation for me. First and only loves were the only things I’d read in books so far, but Jo made her own path, even in love. I identified with parts of each of the girls, but it was also the first book that I had read with that many different characterizations of women. There were so many things that I got to choose.
Years before the first Buzzfeed Sex and the City quiz let you decide whether you were a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or Miranda, or before Girls made you a Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna or Jess, I made the choice between the March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. My 10-year-old self was completely certain I was a Jo—with a hint of Amy for the ability to crush so very hard on a cute boy in her orbit but seemingly out of her league.
Little Women sticks with me because I will always have that moment with my mother. I will always have Jo and the knowledge that a book is much more than its pages. It’s a vehicle for connection, an object of identification, and so much more.