Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review: Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

Let me start off by saying that I love Anne Shirley. When I first read Anne of Green Gables as a child, I was certain that Anne and I were kindred spirits. I loved her flights of fancy, her spunkiness, her intelligence, and her loyalty. I loved her so much, in fact, that I shelved my Anne books very carefully in amongst my grown-up books rather than on the kid bookshelves that my children frequently plundered. I didn't want anyone to inadvertently harm the books. So I might have actually squealed out loud when I saw that Sarah McCoy was writing a prequel to Anne's story called Marilla of Green Gables and focused on the strict, crusty, but ultimately loving Marilla. And maybe McCoy's young Marilla wasn't exactly as I would have imagined her but she was still delightful to spend time with and to watch as she evolved into the woman we come to know and love in Lucy Maud Montgomery's enduring novels.

Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old. She helps her mother around the newly expanded farmhouse, especially since her mother is pregnant with a much anticipated third child. Matthew Cuthbert is twenty-one and a farmer down to his bones, working side by side with his father in the fields and barn. The siblings love each other and their parents very much, forming a tight knit family. When Clara Cuthbert's twin sister Izzy arrives to help her sister through the last few months of her pregnancy, Marilla is at first jealous of the bond between her mother and aunt but she quickly comes to love this unconventional spinster aunt, a talented seamstress who owns her own business off the island. Aunt Izzy's presence also allows her to relinquish some of the care of her mother and gives her the freedom to just be a young teenager, spending time with her best friend Rachel and courting with John Blythe. But the tranquility and contentedness of the farm will be shattered when Clara dies in childbirth and Marilla must cope with her grief, her confused feelings about John and the future, a growing awareness of the fraught Canadian political situation and the volatile American situation, and step into the role of the family caretaker almost in one fell swoop.

The novel expands Marilla's character beyond the practical, stern woman first introduced in Anne of Green Gables. In fact, in McCoy's version of her girlhood and adulthood pre-Anne, Marilla has a few of Anne's characteristics, even if they are toned down. She is smart and loyal and determined. She is also uncompromising in the things that really matter to her, even if standing by her principles will lose her something she doesn't even know she wants. And she has an imagination. In fact, she is the one who names Green Gables. Matthew is portrayed just as he is in the original books, constant, deeply loving, quiet, and painfully shy. McCoy has not just captured the characters though, she has drawn Avonlea and all the people in it lovingly and as completely recognizable. She includes small details that Anne readers will enjoy, like Marilla's amethyst brooch, the infamous currant wine, the cherry tree outside the bedroom window, and more. But she also moves the novel beyond just a tribute to the Anne books. She gives a complete political grounding, not only giving Marilla opinions on the topics of the day but also allows her to act on an issue about which she feels very deeply. The relationship between Marilla and John Blythe harkens back to a line in the Anne books but it is handled very deftly here, aside from one anachronistic kiss scene, and the ups and downs of the relationship between these two are satisfying, even if Anne readers know what the eventual outcome will be. There are some big jumps in time here. The novel starts with Marilla at 13 and ends with her at 40ish. These gaps in time are truly missing because the reader (at least this reader) would have liked to have seen more of Marilla's becoming who she is in Anne's life and also perhaps how she continues to navigate life in the small town of Avonlea as she ages, having chosen the exact opposite of her Aunt. Izzy fled the Island but Marilla, even in disappointment, is too rooted in the community to even consider leaving.

Although this is clearly a delight for Anne fans wanting a little more insight into Marilla and Matthew, it is also a well-researched and interesting look at life in a small town in the Maritimes during a time of great foment. It takes readers through a whole array of emotions in a short span of pages and might just kindle a desire to reread, or read for the first time, the Anne books. Marilla of Green Gables is very obviously McCoy's love letter to Lucy Maud Montgomery and a well done, satisfying prequel to the beloved series.

For more information about Sarah McCoy and the book, check out her webpage, like her author page on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts