When I first saw mention of Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy, I was intrigued but wary. So many dearly love the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery: how could anyone in our day add to the story? Would it just be fan fiction? Would the author make Marilla’s story too modern and politically correct? Somewhere, in a link I forgot to note, I read that the Montgomery family was also wary of McCoy’s book, but liked it in the end. So that gave me impetus to read it for myself.
The book opens with a scene right before Marilla and Matthew decide that he needs help with the farm, and they discuss sending for an orphan boy. The next chapter takes the story back to Marilla as a thirteen-year-old girl. Her brother, Matthew, is in his twenties, still living at home and helping on the farm. Her mother is expecting her third child. Green Gables is being built but is not finished or named yet.
Marilla and Matthew work hard on the farm, and we see each of their personalities as they might have been. Matthew is quiet and shy. Marilla is sensible and practical, but she is a teenage girl and not an older spinster at this point. So she has hopes and dreams and enjoys idle time reading a magazine.
She makes friends with the chatty and opinionated Rachel White (later Lynde) and meets a young, strong John Blythe. Marilla’s first unusual opportunity to travel with Rachel’s family to another town to deliver shawls knitted by the ladies of Avonlea for orphans broadens her horizons and opens her eyes to people and needs outside their small community.
Tragedy strikes at home, which colors Marilla’s decisions for the rest of her life. Suddenly she has to work harder than ever. But she finds outlets for other causes when she’s tapped to lead the newly formed Ladies’ Aid Society.
Political issues in their region pit neighbor against neighbor and cause ripples of unrest. And Marilla finds that helping others sometimes involves risk and sacrifice.
I felt that the author did a good job with the setting and characters. The story did have a familiar Avonlea feel. Most of the main characters seemed reasonable representations (Rachel seemed the least like her LMM counterpart to me). It was bittersweet watching Marilla and John’s romance unfold, knowing it was not going to work out. But I liked that the author presented the break-up as sad but not unrecoverable. Marilla did fine as an independent single woman. I wasn’t thrilled with the political aspects of the story: I don’t remember there being much of anything political in the Anne books. On the other hand, the author researched issues that would have been important in PEI at the time, and it’s reasonable to think those issues would have impacted Avonlea. I liked the fact that each section of the contents echoed the titles of the Anne books (Marilla of Green Gables, Marilla of Avonlea, Marilla’s House of Dreams).
My one main objection centers around Marilla and John’s kiss scene. I felt that a sweet, chaste kiss would have been more in keeping with the setting and style of the books. Instead, the author has John falling in a brook, taking his wet shirt off, and Marilla’s sensation of her hands on his “naked body” (even though we was only shirtless, not naked.) The whole scene was written much more sensually than it needed to be. Sure, Marilla would have been a normal teenage girl with normal sensations and urges, and I suppose that’s what the author was trying to convey. Even still, I would venture to guess that most people’s first kiss even in our day would not border on erotic.
There was also a scene early on where someone thinks a bee is in the house, and the reaction from the other ladies was tremendously overblown, in my opinion, with ladies fleeing the house in panic, and the owner giving the house a thorough cleaning, even calling for the county inspector.
But for the most part, I enjoyed the story and the visit back to Avonlea.