As a young child Eponine never knew kindness, except once from her family’s kitchen slave, Cosette. When at sixteen the girls’ paths cross again and their circumstances are reversed, Eponine must decide what that friendship is worth, even though they’ve both fallen for the same boy. In the end, Eponine will sacrifice everything to keep true love alive.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is one of my favorite books of all time, and I take it very very seriously. (See also: that one review where I ranted for a paragraph about an inaccurate Les Mis reference the author made). So when I found out there was a young adult retelling of Eponine’s story in Les Miserables, I was intrigued–I am always there for anything to do with Les Mis–and terrified–what if the author got it wrong?
I kept my expectations appropriately low. As it turned out, that was a good thing.
Which isn’t to say that A Little in Love is a bad book. Susan Fletcher can definitely write; the book was full of beautiful imagery and moving passages. She does a good job contrasting the brutality of Eponine’s life with the beauty of the hope and kindness she finds, and while the book has a tendency to feel a little preachy and moralizing, it always comes from a place that’s genuine.
But as a retelling of Les Miserables, it just didn’t work. Eponine and Marius felt like watered-down versions of their original characters, who went through the motions of the story but never quite stepped into the right positions. It didn’t add enough to the story to feel new, but it also didn’t feel like the old story I loved. Instead, it was an unsatisfying in-between.
Despite all this, I enjoyed my reading experience. The book was short, quick, and occasionally gut-punching, and I think many people will find a lot to like here.
My biggest problem with the book was just how much the characters did not feel like the people they were supposed to be. Hugo’s Eponine has a lot of rough edges that I felt this book smoothed over to the point where she was barely recognizable. She certainly wasn’t the “daughter of a wolf” she described herself to be in the original. (That line was cut from this book. Of course.) And Marius was just this perfect idealized Disney prince type character. I cannot imagine this book’s version of Marius putting his forehead against a tree trunk for two hours, and that’s upsetting, because Marius being a ridiculous dork in the original was what made him grow on me in the first place.
At the same time–and this may seem like I’m contradicting myself–a lot of the story was just retreading old ground. Susan Fletcher filled some gaps in Eponine’s story, added some new interactions, but most of this book just retold what I’d already read before.
When retelling a story, the author needs to find a balance–to keep the spirit of the original, even if some details change, while adding in something of their own to make it feel different enough to keep the reader’s interest. I don’t think this retelling did either.
There were also some deviations that bothered me even though they weren’t a huge deal in the scheme of things because…really, what is the point of doing that? For example, Marius knows Valjean’s real name, which he wouldn’t know because Valjean was going by Fauchelevent at the time, and [SPOILER] Eponine dies after everyone else at the barricade does. (And the last one is made worse by the fact that one of the boys who is named as having died before Eponine didn’t actually die until after the fighting was pretty much over, in a pretty significant scene).
A Little in Love was at its best when Susan Fletcher was exploring characters and relationships that didn’t get much page time in the original. For instance, I really liked what she did with Azelma’s character, particularly because it was so different from the version of Azelma that had been living in my head, but still in keeping from the little we knew about her. This Azelma is more suited to her world than Eponine; she doesn’t mind being a criminal and is fiercely loyal to her father. She mostly exists as a foil to Eponine, and she’s just as terrible and ruthless as her parents, but she’s still a sympathetic character, in part because we can see the forces that drove her to be this way.
Another unexplored area that this book did a really good job on was Eponine’s relationship with Cosette, both when they were children and afterwards. The added scene between the two of them was one of my favorites in the book, and it makes my lady-friendship-loving heart really emotional that Cosette was the first person to call Eponine beautiful and mean it.
Actually, this book as a whole made me very emotional. As I’ve said before, the writing is really strong. There were quite a few moments where I teared up, and Eponine’s journey climbing towards the light was genuinely beautiful.
The Brick-obsessed part of me has a lot of problems with this book, but the rest of me will admit that it’s worth at least trying. If you’re a hardcore Hugo fan, read at your own discretion. But if you’re a more casual fan interested in experiencing or re-experiencing the story, or want something lighter to work your way up to the original, definitely give it a try!