Book recommendation: The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

I have had a secret longing to read young adult books because they read quickly. With all the heavy reading I’ve had to do lately, it’s nice to just fly through a book without taking notes or analyzing each paragraph. Yet, I always felt I should not be reading such books since I am an adult. After hearing Cathlin Davis’ stirring defense of the value of children’s literature at the Summer Conversational Series (see previous post) I confessed to the group that I felt like I had received permission to read children’s literature!

I had already started reading The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick and this made the reading even more fun.

About the author and the premise of the book

Heather Vogel FrederickThe Mother-Daughter Book Club (first in a series) focuses on four mothers and their pre-teen daughters living in Concord, MA and reading Little Women. The project was suggested to the author as she herself lived in Concord for seven years, right down the street from Orchard House. In the notes following the story she writes that she rode her bike past the home, dreaming of becoming a writer. She likens herself to Louisa in her love of exploring nature, reading books and writing stories.

Main characters

The main characters mirror in part the March sisters: Emma is the wanna-be writer and bookworm, Jess is the gentle and shy animal lover, Megan is the vain and spoiled aspiring fashion designer and Cassidy is the rambunctious tomboy and athlete who plays hockey. It appears that Meg is the only March sister not represented by this group.

Unique point of view

the-mother-daughter-book-club (for LMA blog)Frederick uses an interesting method in laying out the story, devoting chapters to each girl, using their unique point of view to describe what is happening. While it gets a bit confusing trying to remember whose mom is whose, it’s a wonderful way to get inside the head and heart of each character.

Familiar territory

The Mother-Daughter Book Club covers the sixth grade year of the girls with all the familiar drama of middle school. I found myself reminiscing about life in the sixth grade as I read about the Fab Four (the cool kids who terrorize everyone – Megan is a part of this crowd), crushes on boys, the obsession with clothes, and sticking out for being “different.” It reminded me of just how complicated it was to be twelve years old.

Each daughter has a dilemma:

  • Emma, who is plain, overweight and wears hand-me-downs, has a mad crush on Zack, the hunk.
  • Jess lives on an organic farm that dates back to the Revolutionary War and is teased mercilessly by the Fab Four who call her “Goat Girl.”
  • Megan comes from a family who suddenly came into wealth and has been changed from Emma’s imaginative friend into an elitist snob who shuns her friend in favor of becoming part of the Fab Four.
  • Cassidy is an out-and-out tomboy who is grieving the loss of her father and finds comfort in playing hockey, something her mother disapproves of.

The mothers have their stories too:

  • Emma’s mom is the town librarian and cooks up the idea of the book club so that mothers and daughters can spend more time together. She is supportive of Emma and the family is close.
  • Jess’ mom up and left Concord suddenly, deciding to live out her long-held dream of being an actress and landing a plum job on a top soap opera called Heartbeats. Jess, her dad and her younger twin brothers miss their mother desperately.
  • Megan’s mom is the in-your-face champion of all kinds of causes. She is a big believer in all-natural and organic foods and wants to push Megan into attending MIT so she can become an environmental lawyer. Megan would prefer being a fashion designer, something her mom feels is a frivolous pursuit.
  • Cassidy’s mom was once a fashion supermodel known as Clementine. She is all woman: beautiful, gracious and very talented in the domestic arts; a total opposite of her daughter.

Well developed, poignant and fun

little women norton versionThis then is the set-up for the four arcs of the story. They are well-developed, funny and sometimes rather poignant. There are the stereotypical minor character “bad girls” (Becca, one of the Fab Four and her obnoxious mother Calliope) and of course the book club meetings where there are many references to Louisa May Alcott and Little Women. Frederick also uses many references to Concord right down to street names, Sleepy Hollow cemetery and the recreation of the first battle of the Revolutionary War at the Old North Bridge. Being so familiar with Concord, it was fun imagining the scenes.

I enjoyed being a witness to the response of today’s pre-teens to Little Women. I also appreciated that the girls, although similar to the March sisters, had their own very distinct personalities and stories.

While the book does wrap up all the loose ends and everyone lives happily ever after, the solutions are, for the most part, believable because of the care Frederick takes in working out each dilemma.

Stamp of approval

I very much enjoyed The Mother-Daughter Book Club; it read so fast that it was hard to put down; I was sorry to see it end. I enjoyed reliving my own memories of being twelve and identified with each character.

So Cathlin Davis was right: there is no shame in reading children’s literature. I will have to do it more often as it gives me a chance to “get away from it all.” Is it a guilty pleasure? A pleasure, to be sure, especially with books like The Mother-Daughter Book Club.
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7 Replies to “Book recommendation: The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick”

  1. No shame! Part of the growth of literature for teens is that studies have found that almost half the readers are adults, often finding romance, adventure, respect for feeling, and plain old story telling that they don’t always find in literature written for adults. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins fits this — and I had fun teaching it alongside Little Women in my children’s lit class. The independent spirit that attracted so many of us to Jo, this generation may find in this dystopian novel. Hope you don’t mind if I link my thoughts about it here:
    http://jeannineatkinsonwritingandstuff.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/jo-march-please-meet-katniss-everdeen/

  2. I love children’s lit, especially the classics like A Secret Garden, the Little House series and Anne of Green Gables. There are two contemporary series I recommend: The Sisters Club by Megan McDonald is about three sisters in an eccentric, loving household. They reference Little Women as one character, Joey, reads the book for the first time. The other series is The Penderwicks which is sort of a loose update of Little Women. There are 4 motherless sisters (the second sister is a tomboy, and one wants to be a writer) and one boy next door. They are so very sweet and destined to be modern classics.

  3. I read this book on the advice of my grandniece. She was motivated to read Little Women as well and we followed up with a visit to Orchard House. I’ve been thinking of using this book with a girl’s group I have at a middle school because it also discusses bullying. My group deals with bullying issues and social-emotional learning. I thought it would be a sneaky way to get them into Little Women. These are very diverse girls with many girls living below the poverty level. I think they would love Little Women. Great post.

  4. This is a great post, Susan. I think I’ve been in denial about loving to read children’s literature for ME! The most recent children’s literature I’ve read is Because of Winn-Dixie. I know it’s not very old compared to Louisa May Alcott and others, but I consider it a classic (or it will be) and absolutely loved every moment of it! I originally bought it–and ended up using it–for kids that I tutor, but I’m glad I decided to read it first! I’m enjoying your posts and the warm feeling I get from all things Louisa!!

    1. Thank you! I read a wonderful young adult book on Fruitlands that I am going to review soon and I am finishing a wonderful children’s book about a boy who turns into a cat and has to learn feline ways in Jennie by Paul Gallico. I think Louisa would have loved this book! No longer a guilty pleasure, just sure pleasure. 🙂

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