Great or Nothing by Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, & Jessica Spotswood

Great or Nothing by Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, & Jessica Spotswood

McCullough, Joy; Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, & Jessica Spotswood. Great or Nothing. Delacorte Press, 2022. 400 pp. ISBN 978-0593372593 $11.99


Four authors voice the infamous March sisters in this novel based on Little Women, set during WWII. Beth, already dead and gone, is present through verse and in her sister’s memories. The remaining three sisters have had a falling out that disperses them. While Meg stays home in Concord with Marmee, missing her fellow schoolteacher John; Jo is working in a factory building parts for airplanes; and Amy is supposedly in art school in Montreal but has actually registered for the Red Cross where she has been shipped out to London and is serving as a Doughnut Dolly. More modern subplots address Japanese interment, Jo’s lesbianism, classism, bullying, and coping with grief.

The story contains many period details–music, makeup, brands, hairstyles, books and movies, and slang–that position it during the 1940s. Many are just name dropped in without context. A fan of the original who is of a certain age or older will hear the Glenn Miller orchestra, or envision Victory Red lipstick, but a Gen-X or younger will skim over the references.

The authors skillfully blend in many details from Little Women, referencing the time Amy burned Jo’s manuscript, the time Laurie rescued Amy from falling through the ice, the time Beth got the piano from Mr. Lawrence. Other favorite scenes are incorporated into the present timeline: the time Laurie proposed, the time Sallie lent Meg a dress and Meg made a fool of herself at a party, the time Meg defended John to Aunt March, the time Amy fell for Laurie, the time Jo found a love of her own, the time Marmee confessed her own inner anger (although here, it’s Meg she’s confiding in, not Jo). The faith, hope, yearning and moral compass of the original is here too, and never saccharin.

Beth’s poem(s) at the end of each chapter are a heart-wrenching reminder of her loss. As if writing from heaven, her omniscience view encompasses the past and hints at the future.

The digital version of this book contains letters from the various characters to one another; I found the font difficult to read. The cover, showing the four sisters from the back, in period clothing, allow the reader to imagine herself as one of the faceless characters.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #GreatOrNothing from #NetGalley

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