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 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.
Marilla of Green Gables tells the story of Marilla Cuthbert's early life, long before Anne of Green Gables. When the novel begins, Marilla is 13 years old, living with her parents and brother Matthew on a farm in Canada. Her mother is experiencing a difficult pregnancy, so her sister Izzy has come to stay with them. After tragedy befalls the family, Marilla ends up taking care of her family, and this changes her whole future. Later we see Marilla tentatively beginning a romance with a neighbor boy named John Blythe Their love story is at the heart of this book - and Marilla's story.
I love children's literature but did not grow up with Anne of Green Gables. I first read the novel as an adult. Reading with adult eyes, and as a single woman, I was curious about Marilla and Matthew, two independent adult siblings who never married but lived independently at Green Gables. I wondered what their backstory was. It is a delight to me that Sarah McCoy wrote Marilla's story.
I love the way this novel travels in time -- beginning with a Prologue in 1876 that hints at an orphan coming to Green Gables (Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables). The book then has a section focusing on Marilla's 13th year, the year that changed her life. This is followed by a section about Marilla's settling in to her new life and being courted by a young John Blythe. Later the book flashes forward to 1860, when Marilla, through a trip to Nova Scotia and her closeness with her Aunt Izzy, has become interested in helping in some way with runaway slaves seeking safety in Canada.
I loved the old fashioned storytelling of this novel. The chapter titles alone were a delight -- Marilla Entertains a Caller, Two to Study, John Blythe Suggests a Walk, etc.
The descriptions in this book were breathtaking and really helped set the time and place. The novel begins:
"The sun and moon shine during snowstorms. They cast similar shadows, soft-edged, like dandelion clocks in the breeze. Marilla noticed that when she saw the silhouette of her father's sleigh coming down their snowy lane. The Farmer's Almanac had forecast a mild winter. But it was late February, and the snowbanks continued to grow, leaving thirteen-year-old Marilla to wonder if spring would ever return. It was hard to imagine the apple orchard alive and green under this blanket of white and shadows" (p. 7).
Marilla, as written in this novel, is such a wonderful character. She loves her home, family, and community so much. There is a scene where she sits with her father Hugh and brother Matthew and they name their farm Green Gables. "The three of them stayed sitting there as the purple haze of night fell over all and the crickets began their bittersweet song. Marilla was exactly where she wanted to be - where she was meant to be. Home at Green Gables" (p. 124).
This love of Green Gables is both Marilla's strength and a stumbling block to moving on to another separate life. I really felt for her as she worked through this as a young adult, and later as a middle aged woman in the novel.
I finished reading Marilla of Green Gables last night and have been thinking about it today. It is a novel that stays with you, one that will make a special impression on fans of Anne of Green Gables. I cannot recommend it highly enough!
Author BioSarah McCoy is the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of the novels The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award nominee; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. She has taught English and writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports surgeon, and their dog, Gilbert, in North Carolina.
Sarah enjoys connecting with her readers on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page, on Instagram at @sarahmmccoy, or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.
I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.