Book Review of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Evelyn Hugo, one of the biggest movie stars of all time, has decided at the age of 79 that she wants someone to tell her life story. The person she chooses for this task is Monique Grant, who has been working for Vivant magazine for less than a year and mostly writing puff pieces. Monique is ambitious–nearly as ambitious as Evelyn was during her career, so she negotiates what she thinks are the best possible terms for the book with Evelyn. Since Evelyn Hugo’s seven husbands are now dead, Monique hopes to find out which one was the love of Evelyn’s life. Though she gets the answer to her question, she also finds out why Evelyn Hugo, Hollywood icon, specifically wanted Monique to interview her.

After the first few chapters, the sections of the book Reid is writing are set up in order of Evelyn’s seven husbands. As a Cuban immigrant, Evelyn Hugo’s mother believed that the way out of the family’s poverty involved becoming a movie star. So when Evelyn’s mother died and her father abused her, Evelyn decided to use her good looks to get a ride with a guy in her neighborhood who was going to Hollywood. At age 15, she married him and worked at getting small and then bigger parts in movies in the 1950s.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has been on my to be read list for a while now and I regret not getting to it sooner. It has great representation–Monique is bi-racial, Evelyn is Cuban American, and there are LGBTQ characters. I marveled at how far LGBTQ rights have come in the years since the fictional Evelyn worked in Hollywood. First of all, the term LGBTQ didn’t exist, and secondly these people had no rights. If they had careers they risked being fired if anyone found out. They also risked getting arrested or being sent to a mental institution simply because of who they loved.

Evelyn’s character is at the center of the book and before I picked it up I assumed she would be shallow. She certainly was unconcerned about who she hurt on her way to becoming famous. If she truly cared about someone, however, she was fiercely loyal. For those people she tried to do the right things, even if she sometimes failed. She also gained some wisdom with age, and I enjoy stories in which the main character grows. As Monique says toward the end of the novel, “I hate Evelyn, but I think I like her very much.”

Another thing I enjoyed about the book were the similarities between Evelyn and Monique. Both are ambitious women who for different reasons don’t quite fit into society’s expectations. Spending time with Evelyn changes Monique in significant ways, some negative, some positive. I found myself caring deeply about both of these women. Sometimes I almost forgot that Evelyn Hugo didn’t really exist because of the tabloid and newspaper articles sprinkled throughout the book.

I gave 5/5 stars to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. If you enjoyed this review, please visit my podcast website https://www.whatheatherisreading.com for more great book reviews. Episodes of What Heather Is Reading are also available wherever you get your podcasts.

Trigger warnings for domestic violence, homophobia, cancer, and alcoholism.

The Childhood of Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott is famous for her children’s novels, especially Little Women. Without certain events in her childhood, however, Louisa might not have become a writer.

Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1832. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was headmaster of a school there, but left when the school’s patron died. He founded another school in Boston, Massachusetts. The family moved several more times due to Bronson’s inability to support his growing family. Louisa had an older sister named Anna and two younger sisters, Elizabeth and May. After Bronson’s failure to make money from a communal living experiment in 1843, he had a nervous breakdown. Louisa’s mother Abigail took charge of the family and taught her girls to work from a young age.

As soon as young Anna and Louisa could safely hold needles, they helped their mother with her work. In addition to sewing for neighbors, Abigail also become one of Boston’s first social workers. Food was often scarce and the Alcott family ate many meals of vegetables and apples.

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Louisa May Alcott at age 20

Despite being poor, Louisa Alcott’s childhood was not entirely gloomy. As a toddler, Louisa played with her father’s books and scribbled on any blank pages she could find. Louisa said since she was little “books have been my greatest comfort, and scribbling a very profitable amusement.” When her father had a school, Louisa went there, and afterward had lessons at home. She disliked math and grammar but enjoyed reading, composition, and history. Even tasks like sewing were more enjoyable because Louisa’s mother read stories to the children as they worked.

Bronson Alcott was a friend of writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the family lived near him for a time. Louisa relished the opportunity to browse Emerson’s library. Her favorite books included Pilgrim’s Progress, fairy tales, and she read Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters. When she grew older, Louisa tutored Emerson’s daughters and made up stories for them.

Abigail Alcott encouraged her daughters to journal to express their feelings. She thought it would help them work through some of the frustrations of having little money and moving frequently. When she noticed that Louisa enjoyed writing even more than the others, she supported her daughter’s interest. On Louisa’s tenth birthday her mother wrote, “I give you the pencil-case I promised, for I observe that you are fond of writing, and wish to encourage the habit.” At age thirteen Louisa was writing stories in addition to journaling. She dreamed of becoming a famous author so her mother wouldn’t have to worry about money any more.

Some of Louisa’s early stories appeared in the Saturday Evening Gazette under the pseudonym Flora Fairfield. Louisa was encouraged by the fact that her stories made some money, even if it was a small amount. In 1854, Louisa May Alcott’s first book, Flower Fables, was published. It was a collection of short stories she wrote for Emerson’s daughters. From these small beginnings, Louisa financially supported her parents and sisters by writing books.

Sources:

The World of Louisa May Alcott by William Anderson.

Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother by Eve LaPlante.

Louisa May Alcott by Ruth K. MacDonald.