When a book starts with the main character dying slowly and painfully in the street, you know that you’re going to be in for an emotional ride.
Then again, what do you expect from a book whose essence can be boiled down to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables as told by Eponine?
I mean, anyone who saw the musical version of Les Miz and didn’t get at least a little misty during this number has a heart of stone:
In A Little in Love, a dying Eponine recounts her sad life story, narrating all that she’s experienced in her young life that led up to this final moment. And so we go back to Eponine’s girlhood, as she lives in a small village at the inn run by her parents, the wicked, thieving Thenardiers. Eponine’s parents raise her and her younger sister to be wonderful thieves, able to pull rings off fingers, lift coins from pockets, take the buckles off a pair of shoes, without ever being seen. To steal is to earn love.
Into their lives comes a small girl named Cosette, deposited into the Thenardier’s keeping by her desperate mother, but the kindness and shelter she’d hope to secure for Cosette is never delivered. Cosette is treated like a dog and a slave, while the money left for her upkeep is spent on food and clothes for the Thenardiers. Eponine sees Cosette as a potential friend, until she is punished for showing any kindess. Eponine’s mother makes clear that only hardness is allowed. She must be cruel. She must be hard. Eponine can only keep what passes for love from her own mother by kicking Cosette and spitting at her, calling her ugly, and making her life miserable.
And so the years pass, until a kind-eyed man comes one Christmas to take little Cosette away into a better life. Eponine realizes just how trapped she is in the misery of her own family… but she herself has no way out, no kind-eyed rescuer to save her from her sad existence. After her father commits a horrible crime, they spend years on the run, eventually landing in Paris, where Eponine’s fate is sealed. She sees a young man, Marius, and falls instantly in love. Eponine is sickened by her family’s evil ways, and determines to be good, to be kind, to make her own way in the world and try to make amends. When Eponine realizes that Marius loves none other than Cosette, Eponine finds a way to unite the lovers, and ultimately… well, if you’ve watched the clip above, you know it doesn’t end well for poor Eponine.
A Little in Love is a lovely little book, not very long and with a nice, quick pace. Eponine’s world view may be limited, but it’s enough to show us the abject poverty of the lower classes in France and the depths to which people must sink in order to survive. Despite her horrible upbringing, Eponine holds onto her own humanity, and it’s through her sense of right and grace that we see that not all people are cruel, and that even poor, downtrodden people are capable of moments of kindess which can change lives.
This was a hard world, I knew that. It was dangerous; it had its knives and lies and cruelties, and Paris felt on the edge of such trouble. but there were small wonders too — everywhere.
Eponine’s voice is simple and genuine. She loves, she aches, she regrets. She despises her parents’ and sister’s actions, but not the people themselves. She would be forgiven for resenting Cosette and standing in her way, but of course she doesn’t: By helping Cosette, she’s doing what little she can to apologize for the years of cruelty, lightening her own burden of guilt even while adding to the pain she suffers knowing Marius will never love her as she loves him.
I would imagine that most readers of A Little in Love will be at least a little familiar with the story from the movie version of Les Miserables. This book is a reimagining of Victor Hugo’s story, so some plot changes may be confusing for those expecting the story they viewed on-screen. It doesn’t matter much, really: Because neither version of the story looks through Eponine’s eyes, the narration of A Little in Love covers new ground even when going over plotlines that may be familiar. It’s a hard balancing act for a retelling to stay faithful to the original while adding enough new elements to make the story fresh and surprising, and author Susan Fletcher achieves this remarkably well in A Little in Love.
Eponine is a tragic character, a small player in the grander story of Les Miserables, and it’s lovely to see her getting the center stage billing she deserves in this new novel.
Two final thoughts:
♦ A Little in Love is being marketed as a young adult novel. I’d just add that younger teen readers (and older middle school aged readers) could easily enjoy this book, especially if they’ve seen the movie version. While the book portrays horrible living conditions, cruelty, starvation, crime, etc, it never gets graphic and there’s no sexual content.
♦ I really wish this book had a better title! It’s not bad, but it’s not memorable or particularly connected to the story itself. I found myself having to double-check the title several times in order to make sure I got it right! It just seems awfully generic, like something you’d paste on a light-hearted high school romance, and I’m afraid it doesn’t do the weightiness of the story true justice.
Title: A Little in Love
Author: Susan Fletcher
Publisher: Chicken House Ltd
Publication date: August 25, 2015
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction