This is the sequel to Eight Cousins, both written by Louisa May Alcott. Rose, the heroine in Eight Cousins, now grows into a young woman of 21. She, together with Phebe (once her maid, now sort of an adopted sister) and the seven boy cousins, are faced with many issues in real life, such as fashionable society, marriage for money, charity, prejudice, and of course, romance. With the help from her upright uncle Dr. Alec, Rose overcomes all these hurdles, and becomes a kind and strong-willed woman, who finds a worthy lover in time. Her friend Phebe also fares well, only in a rather different way, for she has no fortune to inherit and must earn her own bread, in which she succeeded with her talent of singing.
Warning: spoilers below, in case you have read the book, or like to read spoilers (I do).
Among the seven boy cousins, Charlie, the "Prince Charming", is paid the most attention by the author. He is a gentleman on the outside and has a kind heart inside, and loves Rose ardently, but he is quite spoiled by his mother, apt to spend much time on "lovering" and frivolous things and otherwise dawdling, rather than doing something useful like the other cousins. Rose loves him a little, but is much taken aback by his dawdling ways and lack of respect to women, and tries to reform him with the help of Dr. Alec. With the hope of gaining Rose's love, Charlie tried his best, but the effects of 24 years of spoiled life prove to be very hard to counter; although his improvement is significant, the former temptations still result in a tragic accident which brings an end to everything. I think the author use this to show how much she loathes the fashionable society at the time, which in the form of liquor, flirtation, etc., sent so many rich young men to destruction. The same idea is in the author's another novel, Jo's Boys.
The other lover of Rose, cousin Mac, is quite opposite. Growing up as a bookworm, he is a kind, loving fellow having great taste in literature, but rather inept in society, the kind which we call nerds today. He suits Rose's taste much better, and his rough spots are gradually corrected, partly by Rose, partly by his neat brother Steve, and partly by his own goodness, for he picked up an orphan baby whom later came under Rose's and his care, and nothing improves a man in this aspect better than paternal responsibility. At the end of the novel, he fell in love with Rose (thankfully not earlier, so there has been no contention between him and Charlie), and won hers in return. Mac's struggles are rather similar to those of modern computer-loving nerds, so I expect him to win much sympathy among them.
Phebe's life is rather different. Destined to be an independent girl, and much obligated by the Campbell family's kindness, she becomes a choir singer in a church after receiving her training in a school, where she wins herself much praise and fame in time. The eldest cousin, Archie, has been in love with her ever since the beginning of the novel, but Phebe, being a proud girl, rejected him for fear of looking like a money grabber, and the elder members of the family indeed opposed to the marriage of their eldest cousin to someone not from the upper class. After one year's painful separation, which both lovers bore with praiseworthy patience and industrious work, something happens in which Phebe finally gets a chance to do some heroic things for the family, and won the family's consent in return.
Overall, I think this is a wholesome and good novel with high rereading value, although I find Little Women and Jo's Boys even better. Like Alcott's other novels, it moralizes quite a bit, but it is not overly preachy either. I recommend it to everyone who is tired of the many dark and violent novels nowadays, and wants something wholesome and uplifting for a change.
This book is in Project Gutenberg, #2804, so you can read it even if you can't find the book in bookstores, and Amazon is inaccessible to you.