Jack and Jill (by Louisa M Alcott)

I've long been a fan of Louisa M Alcott, best known for her classic novels 'Little Women' and its sequels. She wrote during the latter part of the 19th century, so her books inevitably seem rather dated, but the characters are believable and warm, and I've managed to collect copies of most of her books on my shelves over the years.

I didn't, however, have a copy of 'Jack and Jill', although it has recently been reprinted in paperback. It's many, many years since I had read it. So I was delighted to find a free edition for my new Kindle; it's the first full-length novel I have read in e-book form.

It's a pleasant enough story revolving around several teenagers in small-town USA, written 130 years ago. Given its age, I suppose it's surprisingly up-to-date in some ways although the style seems very dated; more so than with other Alcott novels. Jack and Jill are close friends despite vastly different social circumstances and temperaments. Jill is a live-wire who tends to lead Jack into trouble.

Early in the book, the pair have a nasty accident while sledging. The book follows them and their friends over the next year, as they convalesce, making their own amusements for the most part in an age free of technology to entertain them. I didn't entirely understand all the cultural references, and found myself just a little cynical that teens would be quite so motivated to study, to perform tableaux for each other, and so on, even if they didn't have any other forms of entertainment. But still, it's a gentle story and quite readable.

Subtitled 'a village story', it doesn't have any great plot - it just follows the lives of these two young people and their friends. There's a fair amount of authorial intrusion, much of which I skipped. Some of it is rather preachy, at least to modern ears, and I felt it went a bit overboard, even given the date and genre. It's hard to believe that even teens of the late 19th century would swallow quite so many moral lessons, as Jill learns patience and fortitude due to enforced inactivity, and I think it's unlikely to appeal to most modern children or teenagers.

Nonetheless it's a pleasant piece of social history, and I'd recommend it in a low-key sort of way to anyone who enjoys books of this age and genre. It was a good book to read on the Kindle, for twenty minutes or so each morning, without any feeling that I couldn't put it down. Links given are to paperback editions - of which there are many - but you should be able to find inexpensive or free e-book editions too, either at Amazon or Project Gutenberg.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 8th January 2011

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