I have to admit that I hang my head in shame that, as a proud Canadian, I have never attempted to read any of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s collection of novels surrounding a precocious red-headed little girl. Asked to do so as part of a buddy read, I dove in to see what all the hoopla might be about and to finally partake in a part of true Canadiana, albeit a novel aimed at youths. Prince Edward Island is abuzz when Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert expect the arrival of a young boy from an orphanage. When Matthew arrives at the train station, there is no boy, but an eleven year-old girl. After an awkward exchange, Matthew and the young red-headed Anne Shirley begin the ride back to their residence. Anne is full of pep and vinegar, chatting the entire way and offering her own editorial comments about anything she can see. Marilla’s surprise when Anne arrives is one that cannot be masked, leaving the young girl to burst into tears. With the late hour, the issue is shelved until the morning and Anne settles into her room at Green Gables. Anne’s next few days are met with many troubling encounters with those close to the Cuthberts, many of which cause Anne distress and significant anger. When the Cuthberts agree to keep her on a trial basis, Anne finds herself putting down some roots and meets a young Diana Barry, another girl her own age. Anne and Diana create a wonderful world fuelled by their imaginations, which helps fill their time when not attending school. Anne meets her match, academically, in the form of Gilbert Blythe. An infuriatingly sharp Gilbert matches Anne’s skills and makes his intelligence known in various forms. Settling in at Green Gables, Anne and her friends find themselves in much mischief, to the point that the days turn to months and no one can remember what life was like before Anne arrived. Certainly a wonderful match, even if there are some bumps along the way. When a significant decisions awaits Anne, she must choose between her education and a family that has come to love her. The choice is one many readers will find quite amusing, amongst a great deal of emotional outpouring. A delightfully entertaining first book in a long series about Anne and her formative years along Canada’s East Coast. Recommended to those who love novels depicting early 20th century settings, as well as readers who enjoy something with a Canadian flavour to it.
As the father of a lively red-headed child, I know all too well the personality that Lucy Maud Montgomery infused into her protagonist. While Neo is an active eight year-old, his feistiness and need to talk incessantly reminded me so much of Anne’s depiction in this story, as well as their mutual need to get into mischief. Anne does come across as a tad precocious in the early portion of the novel, making her less than likeable to some readers, but her inherent desire to fit in is understandable. With a strong backstory in one of the early chapters, Montgomery weaves quite the tale for Anne as she seeks to finally be accepted and have a family of her own. As she gets more comfortable with the Cuthberts, Anne becomes one of the family, though her curiosity is sure to drive her parents wild. As the story progresses, the reader can see Anne’s character growth as she gets older, set against the backdrop of a Canada that still places women in subservient roles. Others in the story serve as plot advancers for the larger Anne narrative. Montgomery uses her characters so effectively and brings them back as needed, without carrying a large list of names for the reader to recollect throughout the entire reading journey. I am eager to see how some of these names will return throughout the series, though I am sure some flavour just the book in which they first emerge. The story itself is as Canadian as ever, though the early 20th century setting will differentiate it a great deal from today. A quasi-rural settling on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, creates a more wholesome aspect to the story, though it also helps to keep the focus on the plot, rather than having to worry about too many distractions in the forms of busy streets and large populations. I went into this book agreeing to fulfil a buddy read, but think that I might continue with the series, a book a month to keep the pleasantness of the series lingering into 2021. There’s something about a young ginger’s adventures that I like a great deal and it will allow me to add more editorialising about Neo’s life as well!
Kudos, Madam Montgomery, for a great beginning to the series. This is a Canadian classic that I hope many young readers will discover when time permits.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons