Have you ever read a book that makes you feel...good? I mean, just really, really good? And it makes you want to go out and do good things? Be a better person? "An Old Fashioned Girl" is one of those books.
Louisa May Alcott was great at this sort of thing. With her "Little Women" book and those that followed, she gave you some very sweet, very honest glimpses into the lives of her characters. They were real people for you, living a real life, with all the problems that people of their time would have. But with this book, it felt like all of that was magnified.
The book follows Polly, the country "old fashioned girl", who goes to stay with family friends in the city for a few weeks every year. It shows her confused by their attitudes, unsure as to why everyone is so determined to be what they're not, and her character in remembering her mother's life lessons. We follow Polly, along with her friend Fanny, Fanny's brother, Fanny's little sister, and of course Fanny's parents, through several years. It's gratifying to see how Polly's actions change the family, and how her attitude gives them the little lifts they need. Even when the worst happens to them, they have Polly's sage advice and ready smile to help them get through.
Polly isn't perfect. She never claims to be perfect. In fact, she's really very hard on herself for her foibles. But you see her try, see her go on, see her digging for the good out of the bad. It makes it easy to relate to her character, even though the story is framed in a time where they still drove horse and buggies.
"An Old Fashioned Girl" is also a cautionary tale about wrapping yourself in material possessions, in being caught up in too many worldly things, in losing sight of what it is to be a human being instead of a status symbol, and where true happiness lies. Reading this book reminded me of all the old sayings my grandmother used to lace through her conversations. "Idle hands are the devil's playground"; "Never judge a book by its cover"; "Beauty is inward and will tell outward". All those things that sometimes we hear, but don't ever consider or truly understand.
I loved reading this book. While it wasn't a difficult read (the language was easy to follow, there were no real plot twists, no mysteries to solve), it was one that definitely made me introspective. The scenes were well drawn, the pacing just right, and the characters rich and believable (for their time period). It's a definite must read, and one that you can share with your kids, or even your mother, without a blush. There is, of course, a very happy ending for all involved. But somehow I'll bet you already knew that.
A quick note: the library had to actually send off for this book from their archives. On looking in the back of the book, I found a library check-out card pocketed in the back. The dates went all the way back to 1956, and right up to 1988, when the book was obviously "retired". I have to say, it was a neat experience realizing I was holding a book in my hand that had seen so many generations of readers.