Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

May 16, 2020

If I had seen this book on a library display stand, I would have passed it by without so much as a second glance. I have never been drawn to fan fiction. I prefer to just stick with the real thing and leave the rest of the story up to my own, not someone else's, imagination.

And in the case of my beloved Anne Shirley, that is even more true. How could anyone possibly try to get inside L.M. Montgomery's creativity and flesh out a backstory? The very idea seemed impossible, not to mention almost sacrilegious.

But it was my friend who read it first. Her love of Anne runs deep as well, so I felt like I could trust her when she said, "It was actually really well done. I think you would like it."

So I decided to take a chance. And I was pleasantly surprised.

The story was anchored in familiarity while still standing uniquely on its own. It was delightful to have Marilla introduced to "the White's daughter" and realize with a start that it was none other than Rachel Lynde. Or watch Marilla head the fundraising of the Ladies' Aid Society's by selling bottles of homemade raspberry cordial. Or notice a certain lovely amethyst brooch pinned on Marilla's dress.

But then there were new things never before considered: unconventional Aunt Izzy who chose to remain a spinster in order to pursue a career and a life outside Avonlea; the death of Marilla's mother, which forced Marilla to grow up early; an underground abolitionist organization to help protect runaway slaves. These things propelled the story forward in its own way without being tied to events and details from the future.

In spite of all of these good things however, the story was actually quite painful.  This had nothing to do with the writing (which was really quite lovely and, thankfully, did not attempt to mimic L.M. Montgomery's lavish descriptions) or the pacing (which surprised me with an intense climax at the end).

No, it was painful because, at its center, there was John Blythe with his self-assured smile and strong opinions, and he was just so gosh darn likeable. It broke my heart over and over again because I knew how it was going to end before it even began. I couldn't enjoy his tutoring of Marilla or his slow clap after her speech at the town debate (reminiscent of another slow clap after a striking performance of "The Highwayman") or his sweet kiss after falling into the stream. Each tender moment was like a jab to my heart. I wanted to will the story to go one way, all while knowing there was absolutely no way for it to work out.

And that begged the question, Did I actually want their romance to be reconciled? If there had been a Marilla and John, then there would never have been an Anne and Gilbert, and that would have been even more tragic.

In the end, it was Marilla's fierce loyalty to her father and brother that kept her from John, but the sad irony was that they would have given her their blessing over and over again. Matthew as a young man was just as you might imagine him to be--quiet but very kind and mostly keeping his opinions to himself.

At one point, he was in a bit of a political argument with John. Marilla, who was listening in on their conversation, couldn't stand the way John seemed to be pushing Matthew around. She rushed in to defend Matthew and put John in his place.

Matthew was not one to reprimand Marilla or tell her what to do, but after John left, he said, "I have a voice just as much as you do. It's a choice we make every minute--what truths are important enough to say aloud and what ones are important just to know." It was that quiet knowing that really defined Matthew's character--both in this book and later on with Anne, and the author captured it so well.

I kind of thought Anne might show up at the very end in an epilogue, but she didn't. Instead, Sarah McCoy chose to end it twelve years before Anne's arrival at Green Gables when Marilla's hope for a child was still just a wish in the grass.

But even though Marilla didn't know what was on her horizon, I did. And knowing that Anne would be coming in just a few years made me happy--and made me want to reread the books and rewatch the movies because of course that's the only possible logical next step after reading a book like this.

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