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Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott

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Reviewed by Nancy Young

Eight Cousins, and its sequel Rose in Bloom, by Louisa May Alcott tell the sweet story of Rose Campbell, an orphaned heiress who lives with her two maiden Aunts, Peace and Plenty, and her guardian Uncle Alec. The eight cousins refer to herself and the seven boy cousins who all live within a happy — and sometimes not-so-happy — distance from one another.

Eight Cousins commences at Rose's first coming to live at "Aunt Hill", and chronicles the ensuing year of her growth from a somewhat indulged and self-centered thirteen-year-old to an active and thoughtful young woman. Her Uncle Alec, a doctor, has many ideas about health and morality, and, like all Louisa May Alcott's novels, the book is certainly didactic if not blatantly preachy. There is more than enough magic, however, to atone. The sense of delight from fireworks and sailing in July to sledding and skating in December (described in delicious detail) compensates quite well for some zealous strictures on hygiene.

A secondary plot centers around the warbling young maid, Phebe, who becomes a close friend to Rose. Phebe becomes a more important and independent character in the sequel.

Rose in Bloom begins with Rose's return from a two-year turn on the continent with her Uncle Alec. Beautiful, rich, and accomplished, she is, however, not content to simply play the debutante. She wants to use her wealth to benefit others — particularly disadvantaged women. She does not see marriage as her first business. Nevertheless, there is plenty of romance going on.

Many of the cousins are now of a marriageable age. And once-servant now accomplished-singing-virtuoso, Phebe is bespoken by cousin Archie, against most of the family's wishes. Cousin Charlie is intent upon securing both Rose and her fortune, but others are looking her way as well.

Rose is still tempted by frivolity and French novels, but is gradually growing into the woman she wants to be –- charitable and selfless.

The didactic continues to play a major role in this book, as it did in Eight Cousins; however, the same remedies are also at hand. The periodization is totally charming and makes the reader long for the era of balls and New Year's Day visits. The writing is fresh, fun, and readable. These books are probably most engaging for girls ages 8-13; older children will likely chafe at the heavy-handed moralizing.

Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott are featured in Vol 7 No 1 of The Storybook Home Journal.

Tags: Vol. 7 No. 1, 2010, Book reviews

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