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Book Review: Marilla of Green Gables

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy (5 star review)

Marilla of Green Gables

written by Sarah McCoy

320 pages // published in 2018 // historical fiction


A bold, heartfelt tale of life at Green Gables . . . before Anne: A marvelously entertaining and moving historical novel, set in rural Prince Edward Island in the nineteenth century, that imagines the young life of spinster Marilla Cuthbert, and the choices that will open her life to the possibility of heartbreak—and unimaginable greatness

Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother has dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.

In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world.

Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables.

My Review

5 Star Rating

Anne Shirley was not the first bright, bubbly, garrulous person to shake up Marilla Cuthbert. An aunt arrives to stay awhile at the Cuthbert place, Green Gables, exhibiting louder and more voracious habits of living life than young Marilla (and Matthew) are used to, which they can "barely tolerate"... and thus is Marilla Cuthbert's fictionally-imagined life at 13 years of age. The novel continues uncovering more years of Marilla's hidden past for us... A literary character we already know and love from the Anne of Green Gables series, now reimagined, reinterpreted, reborn.

"Silence had always been a Cuthbert comfort."

I started noticing clues right away from Montgomery's Anne books... Elements that made me feel right at home. Yep, there's the family recipe of red currant wine. Yep, there's all the same neighbors and recognizable family names. Yep, there's the Matthew I know, a boy who barely speaks a word, who turns into a man of wise caliber. Yep, there's the brooch. It's all in there, people. The story before the story.

It's such a unique experience to see, touch, and hear Green Gables before Anne arrives. The only thing we ever knew of this fantastic place was to take it in all-new when Anne arrives for the first time. Now we see it in its innocent infancy, through the eyes of a girl who is already accustomed to its beauty, who sees it for what it is... but who will inevitably, continually discover its secrets for decades of her life.

There's a lot of things in Avonlea that still feel exactly the same, just a few decades apart from the original story I cherish. For example, I might have squealed with delight when 13-year-old Marilla's meets a new friend. One of the infamous name Rachel... Now there's a friendship for the ages.

This book does open the reader's eyes. Stern-faced Marilla was a young slip of a girl once, with childish notions in her head. One sentence surprised me the most though... It mentions that when she was a little younger, she believed fairies lived in a particular tree hollow she liked. Fairies? Marilla? Well, maybe so. She was young once too, just like red-headed Anne.

"Tears were misunderstood, she thought, and used inappropriately most often. They were designed as a private response of being. Because sometimes life filled you to the brim and spilled over."

Something the author did differently is that she brought in pieces of historical interest, lining up events in Canada's political history of that time period. Having this in the story definitely sets it apart from Montgomery's writings... This additional historical context is the only thing that made me stop and wonder if I liked it in the story or not, as it seems a bit out of place, especially after I'd just been reading a sweet, charming Montgomery original, which isn't fettered down with such. I can accept it though, for the sake of the rest of the novel.

Note to parents and the discerning reader: Overall, it's "fairly" clean. But there is a rather passionate, dramatic kiss when Marilla is about 15. Also, there are various conversations about pregnancy and child-birth. I might recommend it for ages 13 and up, but only if your kid is ready for those topics.

Plenty of faith-based elements are woven all throughout the chapters, which I personally am glad to see.

Overall? Marilla of Green Gables is an enjoyable read and a beautiful experience. I do feel like the author has done justice to the original and stayed as pretty close to the truth as we know it. It's filled with nostalgia. Honestly, I want this new book to be turned into a movie. But you know what I want even more than that, Sarah McCoy? Please write us Matthew's story too. We do get to see some unique sides of Matthew here in Marilla's story... but I do believe there's still more to discover about that remarkable man.

"He that hath knowledge spareth his words -- that was from the Proverbs, and underlined by Hugh in their family Bible."

Yes, I want all of my fellow Anne friends to try this book out... and I sincerely hope you'll like it! If you don't, then I like to hear your reasons why. Let's discuss it, kindred spirit.

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1 comment:

  1. I just finished this one yesterday and hope to review it soon. I was wary at first, but I thought it was faithful to what we know of the Marilla of GG except for the couple of areas you mentioned. I wasn't sure if I liked the political aspect, either. And I felt the kiss was written with a totally wrong tone for this kind of book. Yes, Marilla would have normal feelings and such, but for most, especially in that time, a first kiss would have been sweet and chaste. But otherwise I really liked the book.