Deb Rachel Says It Takes Two

Jo MarchMy immediate reaction when I learned this was favorite characters week was, duh, Jo March. She’s been my go-to fave for a while. Little Women is one of those books you can read again and again, and each time you’ll come away with a whole new understanding of the March family. (It’s an entirely different read as a 10-year-old girl than a 22-year-old woman, especially given some sisters’  emphasis on how a woman must be married off to tend to her husband and children. It seemed so romantic when I was in fourth grade, and so he-doesn’t-own-me! when I was a fresh college graduate yearning for a career.)

When I was applying to Northwestern, where I eventually went to college, one of the questions was, “What fictional character do you most identify with?” Duh, again. Jo was a tomboy. I was a tomboy! Jo loved to write. I loved to write! Jo had no time for sexy next door neighbors because she was going to be a serious author. I… well.. I found plenty of time for silly boy drama in high school. But you get what I’m saying. She was me. I was her.

And yet every time I reread Little Women, my relationship with the second-oldest March sister gets more complicated. These days, it’s like I love Jo so much that I get frustrated with her. It’s as if she’s my own little sister and I see her making mistakes and want to shake her and scream, “He loves you!! Love him back or he is going to end up with your bratty little sister who is totally going to throw your manuscript in the fire!” Perhaps you will argue that she didn’t love Laurie, he was like a brother, blah blah blah. But I won’t hear you, because I will have shoved my fingers in my ears and stuck out my tongue. THEY BELONGED TOGETHER.

But, anyway.

My more recent answer to the favorite character question comes from another reread. My book club revisited To Kill a Mockingbird this year, and I have to admit, I fell in love with Dill. He’s hilarious! Dill

To provide you with a mental picture of Rachel making this discovery: It was a Friday morning. I was on vacation in Orlando, waiting for my two friends to arrive for our girls’ weekend trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (yes, we are huge nerds). I sat alone by the pool at 11 AM, margarita in one hand, Harper Lee in the other. Laughing out loud. It was a good day.

Dill’s had it rough, to be sure. But what I love about him is that he always makes me laugh. When Scout finds him under the bed? And he emerges after having been squished under there and then just says “hey” as if nothing was out of the ordinary? Classic. Or when Jem tries to leave the note for Boo Radley with a fishing pole, and Dill is ringing the “alarm” bell right in Atticus’s face? For some reason, whenever I think of that scene, of Atticus Finch staring at Dill has he rings that bell with all his might, I can only laugh.

So, I guess, the lesson for today: We can fall in love with a story on a first read, but to really appreciate a character, you need a reread.

Which characters have you discovered upon a second reading?


27 Replies to “Deb Rachel Says It Takes Two”

  1. It killed me when Jo dumped Laurie. KILLED me. Devastated me even more than the whole Beth thing. I reread LITTLE WOMEN at least three more times, praying Jo would magically come to her senses. Sadly, she never did. *sighs*

    I love Dill, too. Hmm. Now I’m itching to reread TKAM again. It’s been too long.

    A character I came to appreciate after (multiple) rereads is Melanie in GONE WITH THE WIND. The older I got, the more I admired her quiet strength, which had been overshadowed in early reads by Scarlett’s bolder passion.

    1. Melanie’s a great example, Linda–talk about seeing someone with new lenses years later.

      I find my idea of “attractive” characters has changed–I used to find charm and appeal in the literary bad boys, but as I grew up and my own understanding of what was attractive to me in a mate evolved (and believe me, it was a winding road!) so did my appreciation of (yes, wait for it) the GOOD GUYS! And soon those I’m-too-carefree-to-care-but-go-ahead-and-try-anyway dudes really started getting on my nerves…

      Atticus, what took me so long?;)

      1. Erika, I hear ya. Bad boys are entertaining to watch — from a distance — but the “good” boys have hidden depths to discover. Viva la evolution! *grin*

        1. That’s not to say we don’t still write about women and men making bad choices when it comes to mates–but I must admit I take such pleasure in writing a character who “comes around” to realizing what a doll the good guy/girl is and gets a clue! Can we say, closure?!

    2. Another TBR: Gone With the Wind. I started it when I was in maybe fourth grade, but somehow never finished it (perhaps because I was in fourth grade). I need to pick it up now. It’s been on my list for a while, and this just adds to my eagerness to read it.

      And, ugh, Jo and Laurie. UGH.

  2. Rachel, that was so brilliantly funny–thank you for the morning guffaws, truly.

    I LOVE that you tackled the point that we can all relate to–is your favorite character STILL your favorite after a re-read and when you are older/wiser/cheerier/grumpier/etc?

    Jo is such a great example of that–and I’d be curious if LMA ever wrote about where her head was as she crafted that story and that ending. Or maybe, heck, we don’t want to know.

    But yes, there have been characters I’ve reread, or at the very least reconsidered, and not fancied nearly as much because I had a lot more life experience on which to view their choices. But then again, I think that can cut both ways. As a writer, I often write characters who don’t make the best choices and yet can still be cherished by the reader–because I think we all understand that characters are flawed and won’t always do right by us (because, hey, it is about us! Isn’t it?!).

    1. Oh, Erika. “Brilliantly funny” – I knew I liked you! I don’t think LMA ever really spoke of the whole “Jo is me, so here’s why I split them up” thing. Which is why I love Kelly O’Conner McNees’ book, “The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott”. It imagines Jo as a teen, just before she wrote Little Women. And it imagines her real-life Laurie, and what could have happened in her own life to inspire the story. A great read! For anyone, but especially a Little Women lover.

    2. Just want to note here that you succeeded at this brilliantly in LITTLE GALE GUMBO, which I finally found the breathing room to finish. Dahlia and Josie, Camille, Matty, Ben…and, yes, even Charlie…are all going to live in my head for a long time to come. I adore your book. Kudos on a job well done!

  3. Oh no! Is there something wrong with me?!?!? I have never re-read a book (not counting when I read a story aloud to the children). I wonder if my favorite characters would still be my favorite characters if I could ever bring myself to read a story a second time.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with you! Sometimes rereading seems like such a silly effort to me. There are so many books, I don’t have time to read all the ones I want even once, why would I read one twice? But it really does heighten your appreciation and understanding for you favorites. On a second read, you can notice subtle things that are harder to pick up the first time, when you are paying so much attention to straight plot. Maybe pick a most-favorite book and give it a try!

  4. This is the second time this week I’ve gotten to mention FotD Erin Blakemore’s The Heroine’s Bookshelf – there’s a great chapter in there on Louisa May Alcott and Jo.

    And of course there’s also FotD Kelly O’Connor McNees’ The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, which attempts to explain why Jo dumps Laurie.

    Dill is hilarious. There’s much more humor in that book than I had thought when I first read it!

    I think Gone With the Wind is a perfect example of this – the first time I read I was so overwhelmed by the plot that I didn’t really get to know any of the characters. But each time I re-read I get to know them better and my feelings change about them.

    However, I will always, always love Rhett Butler.

    1. Eleanor–you and I are totally on the same wavelength. I too just recommended The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. Such a great one! I haven’t read The Heroine’s Bookshelf yet though. Number four on the TBR pile, just from this week (Anne of Green Gables, Shipping News, Gone With the Wind, Heroine’s Bookshelf). I can already tell this year is going to add some weight to my bookshelf!

  5. On my most recent read of Little Women I definitely got frustrated with Jo from time to time, but I found that I really basically hated ALL of her sisters. Actually, I might have disliked evil Amy the least, because at least she was interesting. Beth was just too good to live and, I may be pilloried for saying this, I was sort of looking forward to her dying. Meg was fairly obnoxious herself. As for Amy, how can she live with a man who loved her sisters for years and years until Jo refused him and he decided one March girl was as good as another??

    1. Jen, I totally agree! I always thought Beth was a wiener, and of course Amy is the worst person ever. I love Meg as she’s going through the pains of adolescence, burning her hair and trying to fancify herself, but as soon as she turns into a content little mother I’m out.

    2. Oh, Jen, this comment made me laugh! I won’t pillage you for saying what you did about Beth, I promise! And yes, Amy is the worst. And it isn’t helped by the fact that I picture that annoying little Kirsten Dunst in the role. Ugh.

  6. LA LA LA I can’t hear you! LA LA LA LA *never read LITTLE WOMEN, but REALLY REALLY NEED TO and now am just avoiding spoilers* LA LA LA LA

    Isn’t it amazing how our perspectives change as we get older (and hopefully wiser), so much so that it sometimes feels like you’re reading a different book than you did before? Interesting discussion, everyone!

  7. My list of books to RE-read is getting longer! Ack! I added THE ANNE OF GREEN GABLES books the other day and now LITTLE WOMEN. (I’m glad I recently re-read the LITTLE HOUSE BOOKS otherwise all my NEW books would just weep with waiting.)

    I’m taking part in Erin’s/The Heroine’s Bookshelf’s GONE WITH THE WIND read-along and I am loving how much I like/admire Melanie this time around. I also find it funny how I used to swoon over Ashley and now I’m kinda “eh” about him. I do not care for how he treats Scarlett… 🙁

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