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.
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About the Author
Sarah 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fell in love at 13 with Anne of Green Gables at 80 fell in love again with Marilla , Lucy Maude Montgomery would be proud !
I’m an Anne snob and found her story when I was about 4 or 5 in a box of books my mother had won as school prizes. Those hardcovers were constant companions, and to this day there are days when I resign from life and reconnect with my old friends from Avonlea. I’ve known people like Matthew and Marilla – I’ve got family on the island and have seen Green Gables go from rather unknown place to a tourist highlight, cried when the original burned and am happy to see the rebirth of the house for many to share. Prince Edward Island is no longer the ‘slightly removed’ cousin of the mainland, that rural sleepy place of farms and red clay -but there’s an atmosphere on the island, in most places, that is different from the one encountered day to day. To recreate the early 19th century PEI, and imagine how the Marilla we know from the story as a child was a massive undertaking, and in my opinion Sarah McCoy did a lovely job. Some have said there is a mystery around Marilla, and in showing us the more carefree (although that is a descriptive that doesn’t fit so well) child that was Marilla, and the challenges that brought her to be the sister of Matthew, living a quiet life of constrained propriety and undemonstrative duty. Through McCoy’s story, we meet the young Marilla and see the heartaches and discoveries she makes along the way: meeting her aunt, a heretofore unknown twin of her mother, her introduction to Rachel – only a younger version of the outspoken woman we know now. The slow transformation of Matthew into the shy and near silent man who speaks only when his heart and beliefs coincide. And the introduction of John Blythe, progressive and forward thinking in his politics, smart, determined and intrigued with the Marilla he sees: intelligent, thoughtful and curious. The comfort that ALL the Cuthberts share in silence and quiet, the steadying influence of maintaining an even keel. The building of Marilla’s story was beautifully wrought and every moment allowed a clear connection to the Marilla of Anne’s first encounter, and the heart that lay deep within – perhaps a bit awed by the freedom of Anne’s expression of emotions. But life for Marilla took a different turn, and a promise made in the moment to take care of Green Gables, her father and brother was translated in that young brain to become the obligation of her life. Yes, things worked well for she and Matthew, and the choices made by each was influenced by their own hearts and all they had come to believe, from their parents, the church and the society around them. With a lovely inset about the Underground Railroad and the beginnings of the Civil War in the US – after an eye-opening visit to the orphanage where Marilla and Rachel were delivering donations, Marilla learned about the greater world and issues that never had a face for her soon had one. There is a constancy in the character of Marilla that one has to remember and honor (as McCoy has done) that spirit that kept the ‘mistake’ back from the orphanage, and nurtured that young woman in the safety and security of Avonlea. In the closing, McCoy says she hopes readers of Anne will understand and appreciate what she tried to do here. She didn’t simply try – she succeeded in creating a solid backstory that completely fit the Marilla we have all come to know from L.M. Montgomery’s pen, and given a new understanding and appreciation for both she and Matthew. As the stories of Marilla and John seem to follow a patter
If you read and loved Anne of Green Gables (or even just loved the movie version) you should immediately buy and read this book. I had long wondered what had happened between Marilla and John Blythe - father of Gilbert - to thwart the romance Marilla once alludes to in a conversation with Anne. Sarah McCoy tells that story and much, much more in this wonderful novel. L.M. Montgomery's spirit must be smiling.