I am very excited to be sharing my review of Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy. I first heard about this book through this lovely book blogging world and immediately requested it at my local library. However, when I finally (several months later) got to check it out, I felt a bit nervous to begin.
I love the Anne of Green Gables series! It’s one of my all time favorite series. If you’ve been here long, you’ll have seen my posts as part of the Anne Read Along 2017 which I hosted with my friend Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku. That was my first time reading the entire series. I had read the first 3 books several times. And I love the 1980’s adaptation starring Megan Fellows. I aspire to visit Prince Edward Island in the fall someday. I may own multiple copies of all the books (and several of the original one). So I was hesitant to read something that could hinder my views of Marilla in the original books.
I was worried this book would mess up Marilla for me or make her too tragic. But it did neither. This book was beautiful, emotional, raw, and powerful. While I wouldn’t call it part of the Anne of Green Gables canon, it is certainly a worthwhile read especially for fans of Anne Shirley.
According to Goodreads, “Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. . . . 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. . . . Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. . . . 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.”
Marilla is a fantastic protagonist, nearly as lovable as Anne herself. We get to see Marilla grow up from a child to an adult through the course of the novel which feels like our journey with Anne in the original series. Marilla is as stubborn, hard working, and talented as when Anne meets her. I loved learning about where some of her traditions and habits came from like making red currant wine, keeping the house spotless, and even her involvement in Avonlea. I enjoyed reading about her developing romance with John Blythe. I cried as she experienced pain and loss. I laughed as I read about her friendship with Rachel and their different ways of seeing the world. I cringed when her temper threatened to deny her happiness. And I smiled knowingly when she wished for the love of a child. You will root for Marilla just as fiercely as you root for Anne.
There were several moments while I read this novel when I found myself lost in the story just like when I read L. M. Montgomery’s stories. I love when I completely lose sense of time and place because I’m so invested in a book. I have always felt that way with Green Gables and Anne’s adventures. Sarah McCoy gives us a book that feels like it is written by LM Montgomery herself. The wording and descriptions could come from her pen. And I loved the ways this story connected in subtle ways to the scenery and experiences in the original series. There are lines and wordings that allude to the original tales. True fans of Anne and her story will love these beautifully subtle connections.
I was surprised by the political discussions and experiences in this novel. There is a surprising amount of violence with scenes of political hangings and slave hunters. This is not a book that I would read aloud to my children alongside Anne of Green Gables. Those dark moments can be rather frightening. In fact, I still can’t decide if those quite fit in the Green Gables world for me. While Marilla is certainly alluded to as political in the original book, I didn’t picture her involvement that drastic or intense. However, I did find it interesting to hear about Canadian political climate before the American Civil War. I suppose this book becomes more of an adult novel rather than a future children’s classic.
Marilla’s romance with John Blythe is as beautiful and heart breaking as I thought it would be. It’s always intriguing to read a story that you know the ending to. We know they won’t get married at the end. I hoped somehow it would be different in this book (but why would it be?) so I felt the tragic emotions of Marilla waiting too long to make things right. I suppose for us Anne fans the tragedy leads to happiness in the end because of Anne and Gilbert’s story. Regardless, I am glad Marilla and John part ways as friends. Although, I thought John’s wife was a bit naive and rather idolized Marilla a bit too much. She was the least authentic character in the book for me which made John’s choice in a wife seem shallow and petty after the complexities and passion of his relationship with Marilla. Perhaps we need another novel from John’s point of view?
Overall, a lovely story that I am very glad to have read! I enjoyed being back in one of my favorite book settings and exploring Avonlea and Green Gables from a new perspective. I enjoyed the characters and the way Marilla grows into the woman we love with Anne. A great read especially for Anne fans!
What do you love about Anne of Green Gables?
What do you think about novels written about classic settings or characters?