Book Review – “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green GablesWhen I was about 13, my grandparents gave me special editions of both Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, the first two books in the series about beloved Canadian wonder Anne Shirley. I watched the Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea miniseries endlessly, but for some reason, I never felt the inclination to crack open the copies so thoughtfully purchased for me. The little book duo was eventually relegated to one of my book drawers, and when I moved away from home, I forgot about them completely. Luckily, I’m a nostalgic kind of person, and a few years ago when I was visiting home and reliving my childhood, I came across the books in that wooden drawer, perfectly preserved, with that lovely, papery book smell still intact. Now, 19 years after the gift was given, I’m finally reading them. I wish I hadn’t waited so long. Anne is a plucky, charming orphan with plenty of temper to spare, and she spends the book getting into all kinds of mischief. I definitely would have identified with her as a 13-year-old, and would have devoured the entire series.

Set in the early 1900s, the book opens with aging Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (brother and sister, not husband and wife, as I thought for about 75% of the book) setting out to adopt a young boy to help out with the farm and land they live on. Through some miscommunication, they receive a little girl instead, much to shy Matthew’s trepidation and sharp Marilla’s chagrin. The siblings want to trade Anne in for a boy, thinking that she’ll be a nuisance rather than a help, but the positive, whimsical little thing charms Matthew immediately, and eventually wins Marilla over too. And so, after some dramatics, Anne is allowed to stay at Green Gables, where the entirety of the story takes place.

Introspective and incredibly smart, Anne is a child with little upbringing and almost no formal education. Surprisingly, she speaks as well as some highly educated adults, and much better than most of the residents of Avonlea, her flowery sentences starkly contrasting with the clipped, countrified ones of Avonlea’s inhabitants. We don’t get too much explanation about this, but we do get the idea that Anne spent a lot of time reading as a young child. She is also prone to daydreams and finding “scope for imagination” almost everywhere, and we get more hints that this sort of escapism is, at least in part, the result of a troubled past.

Anne purposely doesn’t dwell too much on her life before Green Gables, but we do find out that she was orphaned in infancy, and by age 11 has bounced between something like three homes, raising other women’s broods of children while never being treated like a child herself, or loved, or even paid much attention to, really. Her only friend has been a girl she named “Katie Maurice” who is, quite literally, her own reflection. Which is heartbreaking, but in all honesty, the fact that this poor, neglected girl found her truest friend in herself is maybe not the worst lesson someone could learn…. Anyway, her preoccupation with seemingly frivolous and superficial things like having puffed sleeves on her clothing, or having black hair, or changing her name to Cordelia, belies a need to focus on something lighter than what probably threatens to consume her thoughts – loneliness, neglect, abandonment, and feeling unwanted. It also hints at some self-hatred, probably also borne from her tumultuous childhood. She hates her red hair and her freckles, and even goes so far as dying said hair, with unfortunate results, and asking Marilla to rename her Cordelia. (The ever-practical Marilla of course insists that she regrow her natural hair, and keep her given name, which Anne agrees to, of course with the caveat that “Anne” must be spelled “with an ‘e’”.) This focus on the superficial feels like a defense mechanism, which would have been interesting to see explored a little more. It’s clear that there’s much more to Anne than meets the eye, and the reader is never privy to all of the harsh realities of what made Anne who she is.

Most of the story focuses on her foibles as a young girl, such as when she unwittingly gets her best friend drunk, or accidentally breaks her ankle on a dare, or bakes a cake filled with painkillers. A lot of the story is also consumed by Anne’s disdain for a friendly but mischievous boy named Gilbert Blythe who joking calls her “Carrots” because of her hair. She holds it against him for YEARS. I’m talking a won’t-look-in-his-direction, change-the-subject-when-his-name-comes-up type of grudge. It’s sad and kind of hilarious, mostly because Gilbert clearly adores Anne, but she wants nothing to do with him until they’re teenagers. She learns, far too late in my opinion, that making rash decisions and holding fast to early judgments can alter the course of our lives and reflect our own shortcomings. She eventually befriends Gilbert, and it’s clear that there will be more to that story as the series progresses.

Over time, we witness Anne grow from a small, hot-tempered, dreamy little thing into a quieter, calmer, less hot-tempered, lovely young woman. When we see the person Anne grows into, we see what effect Matthew and Marilla’s care and attention have had on her. Matthew’s indulgence and unadulterated love for the girl has healed her in many ways. Matthew is, to her, a “kindred spirit.” Marilla is strict, to be sure, and has tried – and succeeded – in taming the girl and shaping her into a poised, fiercely intelligent, driven young woman. However, I was bitterly disappointed, to the point of feeling a sense of loss, when I realized that Anne had lost some of her wildness in the midst of growing up. Of course, Anne lived in a different time, and all women were expected to be reasonably mild-mannered, even when it went against their very nature, so I understand the decision to dial Anne’s frivolity back. But I liked her best when she spoke her mind without caring what anyone thought, stumbled into scrape after scrape, and floated into reveries mid-task. Even Marilla laments that her grown Anne isn’t as bubbly or talkative as she used to be, despite the fact that Marilla tried to stamp both the energy and loquaciousness out of Anne at every turn. (I kept thinking, “This is what you wanted, Marilla! This is what you did! And now we all have to suffer!”) But despite the radical change in Anne’s behavior, she is still an engaging and lovable character, and we find that though she has been subdued by custom and age, and touched by loss and heartache (I won’t divulge anything, but I definitely cried), she hasn’t lost all of her spark by the end of it all. I was so taken by the story that I immediately jumped into the sequel upon finishing.

I do have to note that this book is not all sunshine and roses – there are hints of racism in here. Marilla and Anne have a small interchange about the door-to-door salesman who sells Anne some hair dye, a man who Marilla thinks is Italian but Anne says is Jewish. I don’t want to delve too far into it, but it is a blight on the book. This incident forced me to start thinking about (rather than just noticing and moving on) how many mentions there are of “pale” complexions, and how only they seem to be revered and desirable in this fictional little world. Ugh. I hate that so much classic literature is problematic. This kind of thing draws me right out of the story and right back into myself, a self which I know they would have looked at with distrust and maybe hatred if they’d had the chance. But, as we do, I am chalking it up to the time period and ignorance, and choosing to move on. With one eye open, of course.

My next task is to tackle the Netflix series, which I hear is much darker and explores Anne’s past a bit more. We’ll see if I love it as much as I loved the original television series and the books.

 

Recommended For:

Anyone who loved the Canadian Anne of Green Gables TV series from the ‘80s. Any spunky, wild, imaginative kid, or any spunky, wild, imaginative adult who, like me, is still a kid inside. And anyone who, also like me, loves redheads AND their freckles indiscriminately.

 

Book Specifics:

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Publish Date: 1982 (originally pub. 1908)

Publisher: Bantam Books

Edition: Special Collector’s Edition

Format: Paperback

Pages: 314

ISBN / ISBN13: 055321313X / 9780553213133

US Price: $3.99

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The BSC Project – Mills’s Great Idea

BSC Logo

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was a little kid, I was totally and completely wild about The Baby-Sitters Club. I inhaled it all, from the books (heart eyes) to the short-lived TV series (gold) to the movie (trash). One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories (and Mom memories) revolves around the book series: I must have been around 9 or 10, and I’d already gotten several great Christmas presents, when my mom told me that she and Dad still had the biggest, best present to give me. I certainly wasn’t expecting to get anything else, but then my mom walked in with a GIGANTIC plastic bag full of all of the BSC (Baby-Sitters Club) books she could find, particularly the ones I didn’t have in my collection. I freaked out and generally lost my mind. As I dug around the bag excitedly, I asked, “Are these ALL Baby-Sitters Club books?” I remember her delighted smile as she said, “Yep, all the ones you don’t have yet.” She succeeded in raising a geek; I was ecstatic about getting a bag full of books. Even now I can recall that feeling of intense elation, and I’ll never forget that it was the first time I had the desire to quite literally dive into a pile of unread books and not-quite-literally gobble them up whole.

Then, at age twelve I inevitably entered that dreaded hell, the deepest torture I believed was sent solely to rip me out of childhood and dangle me in that god-awful purgatory, before thrusting me into full-fledged adulthood. I’m talking about that rite of passage known as junior high school. Those were some of the worst years I’ve ever experienced. In junior high, everyone seemed so grown up, and I was really, really not. I wasn’t one of the tallest kids in class anymore (or ever again). Nobody ushered me from class to class. People had boyfriends and girlfriends. Hell, there were pregnant girls in my 7th grade class. Everyone was so cool (aside from the pregnant girls), and here I was, clutching a baby’s book as I buffeted my way through the halls. So I did the unthinkable: I abandoned the BSC, never to visit the hallowed halls of Claudia’s bedroom again.

I had some serious issues putting those books down then, and I still have an issue with that decision now. In an effort to fit in, I let go of something that brought me true joy and comfort, and I picked up JNCO jeans, which brought nothing but utter embarrassment. Also, I don’t think I was developmentally ready to just dump those books, or that part of my childhood. But we all do dumb stuff at that age, and I was no exception. Shocked that I stopped reading my BSC books, my mom questioned the decision and tried to encourage me to pick the series back up again, but I was moody and lacked a basic understanding of my own feelings, hormones, and reasoning. I just wanted to fit in, really, but I had no way to express or even fathom why I felt I had to stop at the time.

So it’s only fitting that exactly 20 years later, as a “mature” adult who generally doesn’t care what people think, I’m choosing to pick them up again. I’ve read such a multitude of books in the intervening years, and have obviously experienced such a shift in perspective between 12 and almost-32, that I’d like to return to the series with fresh eyes. I love reading books for younger people, because I feel like there are great lessons to be learned in them, some that we forget or simply take for granted as we age.

And so, the plan is basically for me to read every Baby-Sitters Club book I can get my hands on. I’m calling this ambitious venture “The BSC Project”. Luckily, I still have all of my original books and they’re in great condition, despite having spent 20 years in a storage shed with tiny spiders weaving colonies in their pages. This is really a way to revisit an old childhood love, and also an honest attempt to relearn some of those lessons I was taught as a kid but could probably stand to hear now. And the 12-year-old in me is also itching to know what the hell happened to those steadfast, fictional friends of mine. 

BSC Bracelet
My BSC bracelet from the ’90s….

THE RULES:

  • The first and most important rule is that I don’t want to have too many hard and fast rules. That’s a surefire way for me to give up. However I will be following a few guidelines, because otherwise I will absolutely quit. I haven’t changed that much.
  • I have to read (and write about) all of the books from the original series.
  • I have to read all of the extra-long Super Specials (which were my favorites).
  • I will read all of the Friends Forever books, provided I can get my hands on them. They are the final installments in the girls’ storylines, and I’ve never read them. I’ll read the prequel too, since Ann M. Martin wrote it, albeit long after the series ended.
  • If I start feeling really ambitious, I might dig into the mysteries too. However I’m not making it a priority to read the numerous spinoffs, like the enormous Little Sister collection, because there are too many issues of them and they are boring. I might pick up The California Diaries that feature Dawn, because I’ve also never read them and they sound interesting; they’re apparently targeted to older kids and are darker than the main series.
  • MAYBE I’ll rewatch the series and the movie. Maybe. We’ll see how I feel. I love the series, but the movie is 90% garbage.

It’s hard to say exactly how many books I’m missing at this point, but I fully expect to spend hours upon hours reading, and to pay exorbitant amounts of money to complete my collection. I’ll do my best to chronicle it all and explain everything as I go along. And I imagine I’ll learn some stuff along the way. There will still be normal-person posts, though, because this is definitely a long-term project and my blog isn’t solely dedicated to this book series. It’s going to be a long ride, but a good one. I can feel it. I’m about to say hello to my (old) friends!

BSC TV Show
wikipedia.org

5 Books That Changed My Life

I just got back from a little summer vacation in the tiny, sleepy, hot-as-hell, artistic town of Marfa, TX. The trip afforded me lots of free time, especially because the WiFi in the casita where my beau and I were staying was not the best (which was decidedly for the best). Almost everything in Marfa closes at around 8pm, so there was plenty of time to sit back and catch up on some books I’ve been needing to finish. I even had time to delve into a new, weird “children’s” book that I’m not totally certain is actually for children.

There was also a lot of quiet time for me to chill out and contemplate my life – specifically where mine is going at this very moment. I quit my 8 year, steady job about 8 months ago, and I’m trying to decide exactly what I want to do now. This break from steady work brings up a lot of things that I never really had time to think about when I was working my butt off every day, and I’m trying to decide in what direction I’d like my life to go. I’ve been freelancing and thinking about the things and creative pursuits I love the most, and attempting to decide how to make them into careers. In these ruminations, I’ve realized that if I know one thing, it’s that I love books. They have made an enormous impact on my life, so much that I might even venture to say that books are basically my life. So this thought pattern led me to evaluate which individual books have changed the course of my life over the years (maybe in the hopes that I’ll stumble across another one that will knock me onto the correct path).

It’s undeniable that every book I’ve ever read has changed me in one way or another, but there are really only a handful of books that I can say have truly changed the trajectory of my life. Today I thought I’d share these books as a way to sort of commemorate where I’ve been. Though I wouldn’t say that these are my all-time favorite books or anything, they have absolutely each altered my world at some point in my life.

I’ve listed these books in my own personal chronological order, from the first I discovered to the latest ones to affect me.

1) One Monster After Another by Mercer Mayer

 One Monster After AnotherThis is the first book I learned to read by myself. I was very close to my grandmother, and she was a voracious reader who passed her love of literature on to me. She spent her retirement watching me, my sister, and my two cousins while our parents were at work, and it was in this time that she taught 3- or 4-year-old me (obviously can’t remember the exact age) to read. I remember sitting on Grandmother’s lap and making her read One Monster After Another to me over and over while I turned the pages and memorized all of the words. I read this story about one letter’s fantastical, roundabout journey until I made the connection between letters and words, and could read the book on my own. As you can see, my copy of this book has been read to death, and I imagine it will only get worse if I ever have children. I don’t care. I’m keeping it forever. It jump started my life’s passion.

 

2) The Baby-Sitters Club Series by Ann M. Martin 

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/54772-scholastic-releases-baby-sitters-club-e-books-with-classic-covers.html
publishersweekly.com

Yes, this is a series and not an individual book. As a kid, I was absolutely OBSESSED with the Baby-Sitters Club books. It’s the first book series that I ever started collecting, and it was at this point that I distinctly remember starting to carry a book (usually more than one) with me at all times to read. Reading this series also helped me acquire the skill of being able to keep story lines separate and read more than one book at a time. But what was the most revelatory for me about this series is that it definitely shaped my views on girls and on female friendship. The main characters in these books are strong, diverse, enterprising girls who know what they want and work for it. They are cool, creative, and smart, and I wanted to be all of them (except Mallory, who I suspected was unfortunately the most similar to me). They also drove home that women and girls should support one another instead of tearing each other down, the latter of which is unfortunately what we too often see on TV, in magazines, online, and subsequently in our own relationships. These strong female role models with their ideal, yet still realistic friendships have definitely stuck with and shaped me. (Also, fun fact, I’m not really a fan of Kirsten Dunst, but I think it’s worth mentioning that she was the model for the little girl on “Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls” cover.)

 

3) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

 Pride and PrejudiceI was deep into the Baby-Sitters Club books when my sister introduced me to the wonders of Jane Austen. I was at an age when everything I did started to feel stupid and baby-ish, and felt like I needed to be reading things other than kids’ books (oh, budding adolescence). My sister had read Pride and Prejudice in one of her English classes and, promising I would like it, basically forced me to drop what I was reading one summer and pick it up. And I am so glad she ripped the BSC book out of my hands (speaking in hyperbole here), because reading Pride and Prejudice changed my world. It basically introduced me to the vast world of classic literature, and to the notion that there were a multitude of well-written, mature books in existence that I had no idea could be so readable and just so . . . good. I remember putting down the BSC books and never picking them up again (somewhat sadly, because I still think I developmentally should have continued reading them, but c’est la vie). Though Jane Austen is undeniably one of the best, the Bronte sisters speak a little more to my soul; however, I never would have had the pleasure of discovering this about myself had it not been for Jane Austen’s most acclaimed novel. I literally shudder to think of what I might be filling my head with now if I had never read Pride and Prejudice.

 

4) Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet

This is arguably the most important book on this list to me. I am generally a pretty *quiet* person, but I absolutely love to talk to people about Quiet. I can honestly say that I am a completely different person after reading it. In 2013, at the tender age of 28, I finally stopped apologizing for who I am, and it is thanks to this book. To those who are closest to me, it’s old news that I’m shy and an introvert (the two are not synonymous), but this is usually at least a little surprising to people I’ve worked with or interacted with in social settings. I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding my true nature, mostly because I’ve spent my whole life (see: 27 years) exhausting myself, trying hard not to be shy and withdrawn in basically every school and social setting. In reading Quiet, I found out that I’m an HSP (highly sensitive person), innately shy, and an introverted introvert (there are indeed other combinations of extroversion and introversion, I’m just the furthest to the introvert side). And I no longer apologize for any of it, because I’m convinced that it’s how I was born. Though my parents thankfully never asked me to be anything other than myself, our extrovert-idealizing society did and still does demand other patterns of behavior from me. It was such a sad revelation to see that I had basically spent my life apologizing for who I am, and such a relief to accept that I didn’t need to do it anymore. I bet that almost any true introvert can relate to the feeling of shame that goes along with not wanting to go out with friends sometimes (or almost ever), or fearing working in an open office plan, or avoiding public speaking at all costs. The sort of self-acceptance I have experience is beyond measure. I’ve often said that I should be a spokesperson for this book, because it quite literally changed everything about my life. After many, many years, Quiet has helped me learn that there is nothing wrong with me, and I have finally made peace with the very core of myself

 

5) The Vegetarian by Han Kang

 VegetarianOkay, so the book itself is amazing, enough so that it inspired me to write a “professional-sounding” review that I’ve shared here on this blog. But on its own, the book would not necessarily have made this list (although it’s fantastic and probably the first piece of truly frightening literature that I’ve enjoyed as an adult). What is so personally important about The Vegetarian is that the review I wrote for it recently landed me my dream freelancing gig, which is reviewing books for a major publication. If finding out that your creative pursuits can get you work isn’t life-changing for an artist, I don’t know what is! Reading, writing, and getting paid to do both has been my dream for a very long time. My first review hasn’t been published yet, so I don’t necessarily want to say which publication I’m contributing to, but I’ll definitely share it here when I’m officially published. Needless to say, this book has changed my life and will always remain dear to me.

 

So those are my five life-changing books! I do, however, have to mention somewhere in this post . . . the Harry Potter series. Of course. I didn’t include it because I feel like EVERYONE talks about how it changed their lives, and I wanted to offer something different. For the record, though, Harry Potter is such an important series to me, for many reasons that would take far too long to list. Suffice it to say that growing up with this series has changed how I read, write, think about the world, and view others. It offers solace when I need it, and is always a joy to return to. It’s amazing that reading words on a page can make me feel like I’m going home, no matter where I am or how many times I revisit the story. What’s more life-changing than that?