I was thrilled to be sent an advance copy of this book from the publisher and it absolutely met my expectations! There was so much on my mind after reading and I was so glad to be able to ask the author some questions which you can see below. I also want to hear the thoughts of other readers, so please chime in when you read it!
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Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
Release date: October 23, 2018
Publisher: William Morrow
Page numbers: 320
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.
When I heard this book was coming out I was simultaneously excited and nervous. The characters of Anne of Green Gables are some of my most beloved characters and I was worried that I wouldn’t like what the author did with them.
I’m thrilled to say that I loved this book! The author spent time walking where L.M. Montgomery walked, scouring books, fully experiencing Prince Edward Island, and talking to Montgomery’s family members. I felt like that care and devotion really shone through while the author still allowed herself to make her own creations and interpretations.
I loved seeing the imagined origins of so many iconic aspects to the book (like the amethyst brooch and red currant wine) as well as the early stages of Marilla’s relationships– including her friendship with Rachel, her tender sibling relationship with Matthew, and her sweet and heart breaking romance with John Blythe.
The story was emotionally poignant, the characterizations were rich and fit so well into what I could believe of them.
As I read there were times I wished things could turn out differently from what I already knew would happen, especially with John, but I could see clearly that the events that followed in the Anne books could not have happened otherwise. How true to life! We might feel like we wish we could change things in the past, but we would not have ended up at the same place if we did.
The political/social context of the story was fascinating as well because I have read a lot about the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, and abolitionists from the perspective of America, but I don’t know that I’ve ever read about Canada during this time (beyond knowing it was a place slaves ran away to) and fully considered what the environment was like for them at this time
And, perhaps best of all, reading this book made me want to reread Anne of Green Gables once again with these new possibilities and insights on my mind.
With such widely beloved characters and such a range of reader views, there are bound to be people who don’t like this ‘origin story’, but for me, it completely worked. I am very curious to hear what other Anne fans will think of it! I’m dying to discuss it so please come back and tell me your thoughts after you read!
Author Q&A with Sarah McCoy:
Q: How long has the idea for this book been with you? What made you decide to move forward with it? What kind of responses have you had when people hear you are writing about Montgomery’s beloved characters?
A: I actually hadn’t thought to write Marilla until about two years ago. At the time, I had just completed another novel called Pride and Providence, which sold internationally. I was in the process of changing North American publishing houses. While getting to know potential new publishers, the executive editor at William Morrow/HarperCollins gave me a call. She basically asked me to share a book idea that excited me to write next. No strings attached. Door wide open. Just what makes your heart sing to write? I’d never had an editor take an active role in the brainstorming part of a book’s development. It was entirely refreshing.
I followed her instructions and the first idea that came to mind was… Marilla Cuthbert. I’d always been fascinated by her as a prominent yet only partially known character in my beloved Anne of Green Gables series. I grew up with the books and was obsessed with everything related. Marilla of Green Gables was a novel that somewhat terrified me to write. Green Gables is sacred, after all. But my love for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s legacy usurped my fears. So I went into the writing with the goal to honor that and give Marilla the spotlight that I felt Montgomery would approve.
So far, this book has received the blessing of Montgomery’s relations on PEI and her heirs in Toronto, in addition to many lovely Canadian and American reviewers who have championed the book. But I think the greatest praise for me is when readers say that Marilla of Green Gables fits seamlessly into the series and they place it right alongside their cherished Anne of Green Gables books— a kind of honorary 9th in the series. That’s as good as it gets.
Q: If you were to choose another character from L.M. Montgomery’s books to expand their story in a new book, which would you choose?
A: Hmm, you know, I’m not sure. Right now, I feel there is still so much Marilla to share. That’s a hint to your last question, too.
Q: How was the writing process for this book similar and different than your other books?
A: Each book process feels similar in that all my work is historical fiction. So I start in the archives, unboxing forgotten facts and memories, digging up tiny details. I consider myself a story archeologist. (For a brief stint in college, I thought about being a real one—I even took Geology, which is about as interesting as staring at a rock. Literally.) So first came the research into the fictional Avonlea, created by Lucy Maud Montgomery, within the context of a real Prince Edward Island in a real Canada between 1830s-1860s. A lot was happening! In the country and in Marilla’s life, as you read in the book.
Q: This was the first of your books that I have read, but your previous titles sound so intriguing and have been added to my To Read list! The Mapmaker’s Children is especially compelling to me and I wondered if writing that book influenced you in your inclusion of elements of the Underground Railroad in this book?
A: The sort of ‘magic’—if you want to call it that— of writing never fails to astound me. I’m unable to logically explain the alchemy of the craft. This is but one of many examples. While writing The Mapmaker’s Children, I came across some incredible documents regarding Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland being a kind of ex-slave utopia before the American Civil War. Particularly in Nova Scotia, there was a prominent community of free Africans (many ex-slaves) who weren’t just getting by, but thriving in commerce, family, and black leadership. They were proud abolitionists working with the Underground Railroad, even being so bold as to give public speeches about the emancipation of black people in America. Naturally, I was completely fascinated by this, but at the time, my focus was on Sarah Brown (abolitionist John Brown’s daughter) and her work with the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. But I tucked that gold nugget in my idea bank and when I was writing Marilla of Green Gables, I realized why fate had laid it in my palm.
Again, going back to the analogy of being a story archeologist: I’m in the trenches, digging, rooting around, collecting, and trying to put the historical pieces together; how does this fossil, this pottery shard, a leaf print, and that piece of bone all link generations? My aim is for us to be able to have a conversation about them all individually and collectively in the present. So I’m glad I did my job and you’re reading more of my backlist! I hope you enjoy finding shared story threads through them all.
Q: Can you share what you’re working on next?
A: I can’t give secrets away until my publisher and editor say so, but I may have more Avonlea in mind. I need to discuss it with my editor first, of course. As soon as we decide, I promise to share. The gate to Green Gables has swung back open for a new generation and I feel there’s still so much more to know about the Cuthberts. I suppose it really comes down to you all—kindred readers. If you want it, I will write it. You are as much a part of this Avonlea legacy as I am. I’m waiting to hear what you wish…
Other books by Sarah McCoy: