Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery

Apr 1, 2015

I read the first book in the Emily trilogy, Emily of New Moon, when I was a teenager. Ten years later, I decided I wanted to read the other two, but by that time, I couldn't remember the first very well. So I reread it. And then I stopped again. If that isn't a testament to my inability to finish a series (even ones I love), I don't know what is.

But have you seen the new covers illustrated by Jacqui Oakley (<----)? In spite of my love of books, I'm not a huge book-buyer. But when I saw the new Emily covers, I splurged.

And then I decided it was finally time to read Emily Climbs (and soon, Emily's Quest (how convenient that it's one of my reading goals for 2015)).

This installment chronicles Emily's high school years. Blair Water doesn't have a high school, but Shrewsbury does. Most of Emily's friends (Ilse, Perry, even Teddy) are planning to board in Shrewsbury and attend school there for three years. Emily longs to further her education and go with them, but Aunt Elizabeth is dead set against it. But then suddenly, miraculously, one week before school starts, she relents--on one condition: Emily must give up writing.

Emily is stunned by the request. As much as she wants to go to school, she realizes to give up writing would be as impossible for her as to give up breathing. She would die without it. She knows this, and so she declines the offer.

However, Cousin Jimmy (good ol' Cousin Jimmy!) knows what this opportunity will mean to Emily, and so he acts as mediator between them. He convinces Aunt Elizabeth to be satisfied with Emily only giving up writing fiction, and he convinces Emily to be okay with only writing truth for these three years.

Emily's beloved (but curt) teacher, Mr. Carpenter, thinks this is a good idea and that it will greatly improve Emily's writing . . . and hopefully cure Emily of her excessive use of italics. (After Emily complains to him that he only says disagreeable things, he counters with, "It might be a nice world if nobody ever said a disagreeable thing, but it would be a dangerous one.")

Because of this emphasis on truth, much of the book is made up of entries from Emily's own diary where she diligently tries to give an accurate account of her experiences and the people who take part in them. I loved these sections. They made Emily come to life, and I could see her writing maturing and improving over those three years. However, I found the spacing of these journal sections a little awkward. There wasn't any particular pattern for when they would be inserted, and often they seemed like a means to cover several months in one gulp. But overall, I appreciated them and really found it invaluable in a story about a girl who loves writing and dreams of becoming a writer to get to see examples of her actual writing.

The story itself is rather slow-paced. I found it easy to set it aside and read other books (El Deafo, The Crossover, etc.) in between. But if you could see all my dogeared pages, you'd know that its words still touched me in a multitude of ways. L.M. Montgomery's descriptions are more vivid and real to me than almost any other author's.

And even though it's not a page-turner, it's still filled with so many delightful little scenes. Let me tell you about one of my favorites:

While Emily attends school in Shrewsbury, she boards with her Aunt Ruth, who is even more formidable and disagreeable than Aunt Elizabeth. During her first year there, Emily takes part in a school play, and when Aunt Ruth finds out about it, she is outraged. She calls Emily sly and forbids her to take part in it. But Emily is stubborn and loyal and won't back out at the last minute, so she participates.

When she returns home that evening, she finds all the doors locked. A fiery anger overcomes her, and she decides she is through with Aunt Ruth. No human being can be expected to put up with such abuse for so long. So, in the middle of the night, she walks the seven miles home to New Moon. By luck, Cousin Jimmy is still awake, eating a crockful of doughnuts no less. Of all the people who might have convinced Emily to return to Shrewsbury and continue to endure Aunt Ruth, he's probably the only one who could actually do it. Then at two o'clock in the morning, Emily walks the long road back to Shrewsbury (can you imagine doing such a thing today?!), and, as it turns out, Aunt Ruth is very relieved to see Emily.

I never thought I would like Aunt Ruth (L.M. Montgomery calls her "a rather stupid, stubborn little barnyard fowl trying to train up a skylark"), but even she came through in the end and defended Emily at a critical moment when no one else would have been able to help her. After that, Emily thinks, "I wonder where I put my Jimmy-book. I must add a few more touches to my sketch of Aunt Ruth." By that time, Emily had been living with Aunt Ruth for almost three years and thought she had her pretty well figured out, but this was a great reminder to me that humans (fictional or not) are multi-layered and that usually we make assumptions too quickly.

(Another favorite scene was the dog mix-up between Miss Royal and Emily. That one was so incredibly funny, but I don't want to spoil it since it happens towards the end of the book, but if you've read it, I'd love to talk about it with you.)

It's always a little sad when you don't love the boy who turns out to be the romantic interest, but in this case, I have to admit that I didn't love Teddy (that's part of the reason the Emily books will never surpass the Anne books for me). However, I think he's a perfect fit for Emily, and I really love their timid and slowly unfolding relationship. It's adorable, and so even though I would never want to marry Teddy, I can't help but wish it for Emily.

Although a slow book (I guess slow second books in trilogies were a thing even in 1925), I still really liked this book, and I'm looking forward to the last one.

Have you read the Emily books? Who do you like better--Emily or Anne?


  1. Oh, Amy, now you've made me want to re-read these books. I do love the new covers!

  2. Everyone finds Teddy to be a drip. I haven't read these books in ten years or more, but I vividly remembered the scene where Ruth locks Emily out when you mentioned it.

    1. Ha! A drip is the perfect way to describe Teddy.

      And that's exactly why I write these reviews--so that in ten years, I can read my review and it will spark memories I would have forgotten about otherwise.

  3. I haven't read the Emily books at all. Loved Anne as a kid, but haven't revisited them in adulthood (or even young adulthood). I really should!
    I'm like you by the way - book buying tends to be a splurge!

    1. You should definitely read something by L.M. Montgomery this year. If you don't want to commit to the whole Emily trilogy, try Jane of Lantern Hill. Or I'm planning to read The Blue Castle, which is also a standalone of hers.

  4. I skipped your summary of the books because I can't wait to read this one. I read and loved the hall and serious and just discovered the Emily series last year when I read the first book. I'm planning on meeting the second this year, I can't wait!

  5. Oh, I loved the Emily series in High School. I loved them way better than the Anne series. Sometimes I wonder how much of my love of writing comes from reading about girls who love writing.

  6. Oh, I loved the Emily series in High School. I loved them way better than the Anne series. Sometimes I wonder how much of my love of writing comes from reading about girls who love writing.


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