Louisa M Alcott is best known for her classic American teenage novel, 'Little Women' and its sequels. I have read and re-read those many times during my teens and adulthood, and was pleased when I discovered, many years ago, that she had also written some lesser-known novels.
'Eight Cousins' is one of these, which I read many years ago - probably thirty or more! - but was unable to find again until recently. I now have the unabridged paperback version published by Dover Evergreen Classics, and have re-read the book over the past few days.
It's about Rose, a young orphaned teenager, who lives with two great-aunts. They love her, but have little idea how to help her stay healthy and to mature. Her Uncle Alec is her legal guardian, but has been away at sea. He returns and is horrified by her shy, pale, weak behaviour, and decides to give her plenty of fresh air and good food. He also tries to encourage her to spend time with her seven cousins - all boys, of varying ages.
I'd pretty much forgotten what it this book was about, and enjoyed it on the whole. Each chapter is an incident in Rose's first year of learning to care for her cousins, and take care of her health. There are some amusing incidents, and one or two sections that are quite moving, too.
It's obviously dated, with authorial asides typical of the era (it was first published in 1875), and some parts that seem extremely sexist. It's also evidently intended to publicise Louisa M Alcott's pet theories about the need for teenage girls to get exercise, wholesome food, good surroundings, and lessons in housework and cooking. At the time, these were probably very radical ideas. She also manages to throw in 'lessons' to the reader about boys behaving in gentlemanly ways, avoiding eye-strain, and the dangers of smoking.
I doubt if it would appeal to many teenagers today, but for those - adults or teens - who enjoy old-fashioned novels, I think it's worth reading. It could probably be enjoyed by younger children too - probably from the age of about eight or nine - if they read well and don't mind the dated style and language.
Overall I thought it a good light read. Particularly recommended for anyone who enjoyed Louisa M Alcott's other books such as 'Little Women', 'Good Wives', etc.
Note: There is a sequel to 'Eight Cousins', entitled 'Rose in Bloom'.
Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 17th June 2009