I discovered the Mother-Daughter Book Club series by accident, stumbling onto the first book at Books-a-Million in West Texas. I was in the mood for light summer reading, and the cheery pink-covered paperback promised just that: a tale of four middle-school girls and their mothers in Concord, Massachusetts, who form a book club and read Little Women (my childhood favorite!) together.
The daughters are wary of their mothers’ project at first, but they end up loving the book and each other’s company so much that they decide to keep the club going. Five books later, they’re smack in the middle of high school, and with their sixth adventure hitting shelves next month, I decided to visit them in Concord again.
Narrated in turn by the girls (bookish Emma, farm girl Jess, fashionista Megan and tomboy athlete Cassidy), the books give us several perspectives on the authors and books the club reads. The literary musings (and “fun facts” collected by Emma’s mother, who is a librarian) are interwoven with the daily dramas of middle and high school, life in small-town New England with their families, and each girl’s private struggles and dreams.
These girls (even snooty Becca, who joins the club in seventh grade and finally gets to share in the narration in tenth grade) are innocent, perhaps a little naive. There are no drugs or curse words, and very little rebellion, in the books. But their sunny simplicity matches their club’s classic reads, and keeps the focus on the books rather than on any serious teen angst. (After Little Women, they move on to Anne of Green Gables; Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs; Pride and Prejudice; and my beloved Betsy-Tacy series.)
All five daughters have mostly intact families and loving relationships with their mothers, even though (like all teenagers everywhere) they are embarrassed by their parents sometimes. Despite being rather sheltered, they are thoroughly modern, with cell phones and crushes on boys, and a disastrous fashion blog plays an important role in Pies & Prejudice, the fourth book.
I love these books partly because the characters and setting (not New England, but a friendly small town) remind me of my childhood. I grew up with two parents who loved each other (and me) deeply; I fought with my sister sometimes, but she was always one of my best friends; and we could hardly go to the grocery store without running into someone we knew. I navigated the insecurities and drama of adolescence with the help of my parents, a handful of close friends, and my beloved books.
And that is the other reason I love these books: they embody the idea that literature can change your life, or at least infuse it with more joy, more sparkle, more zest for living, more courage.
None of the girls, except Emma (daughter of a librarian, and an aspiring writer) care much for books when the series begins. Jess loves animals and singing and science; Megan designs and sews clothes, and loves to shop; and Cassidy is a hockey nut who’s still grappling with the death of her father and a cross-country move. They don’t expect to enjoy Little Women (or Anne, or Daddy-Long-Legs), but all of them eventually fall in love with the heroines of these classics, realizing that despite differences of time and geography, Jo March and Anne Shirley and Elizabeth Bennet face the same struggles they do.
The book club motif gives the characters plenty of chances to discuss the books, which means they not only gush about the heroes and heroines, but learn to appreciate the minor characters, from Mrs. Rachel Lynde to Mr. Collins, and Betsy Ray’s merry crowd of friends. Similarly, the minor characters in this series are great fun, from the girls’ parents and siblings to their boyfriends, a couple of grandparents, teachers and friends. It’s a pleasure to revisit Concord (even more so since I’ve now been there myself), and spend time with not only the five narrators, but the whole cast of characters.
If you’re in the mood for some frothy, literary fun, I highly recommend these books. The girls are tackling Jane Eyre next, and I can’t wait to visit England – and hang out in Concord – with them.