Louisa is just a 10-year-old "little woman" when her idealistic father, Bronson Alcott, uproots the family and transplants them to his transcendentalist utopia: Fruitlands. Informed that a journal is the way one comes to know oneself, Louisa chronicles the family's eight-month stay. In her public journal, she subscribes to her father's ideals and tries to "be made perfect" in accord with the mission of Fruitlands. In her secret diary, she records her frustrations and provides a surprisingly astute look at her fellow Fruitlanders.
"Father sees a different world from the one we see," Louisa writes in her secret diary. "He can put apples on a bare twig and fill an empty field with golden wheat." Such observations appear frequently throughout the pages of this slim novel, offering a look at Fruitlands that captures an experiment driven by noble ideals but doomed by impracticality. Though Louisa's commentary is occasionally critical, she maintains her desire to see her father's dream succeed, and her love for him pulls her through disappointment and destitute times.
Whelan, a National Book Award winner, has created a rich character, torn between the desire to please her father by allowing herself to be "perfected" by his molding and the yearning to maintain her own individuality. The result is a protagonist who finds, ultimately, that having dreams requires being true to oneself. This discovery allows Louisa to reconcile herself to the failure of her father's dream and to resolve that in the future she'll have dreams of her own.