Susan's Reviews > Before Green Gables

Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson
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Most of us already know the story of Anne Shirley. She is the titular character in the novels Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne's House of Dreams, and Anne of Ingleside. I read the Anne books when I was about 9 or 10 years old. Published earlier this year, the centennial anniversary of Anne of Green Gables, Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson, the story of Anne's life before she came to beautiful Prince Edward Island to live at Green Gables with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.

Before Green Gables begins shortly after the marriage of Walter and Bertha Shirley, Anne's loving parents. This was one of the best parts of the story for me. Anne's parents were deeply in love and devoted to each other, and that love spilled over to Anne when she was born. She had a very happy life for the three months she spent with her parents in their little yellow house, before Walter and Bertha succumbed to a powerful infectious fever sweeping their town.

After the death of her parents, Anne is taken in by Joanna Thomas, a woman hired to help Bertha around the house when she was pregnant and after Anne was born. Mrs. Thomas took Anne into her already crowded home partly out of respect for Bertha Shirley, and partly because she was hoping to receive some of the Shirley's furniture. Mrs. Thomas' eldest daughter Eliza was thrilled to have Anne, and treated her much like her own daughter. Things were nice for Anne as long as Eliza was there, but when she is 5 years old, Eliza goes to marry Roger, leaving Anne all alone in the loud, angry house.

Anne spends the next few years working harder than any little girl should have to work - scrubbing floors, washing dishes, making meals, washing diapers, taking care of the younger children - all the while, living in an uncertain and explosive environment. The only bright spots in her life are going to school, meeting Mr. Johnson - "the Egg man"/"Word man", and Katie Maurice, Anne's imaginary friend.

When tragedy strikes the Thomas family, a 9 year old Anne is again uprooted and sent to live with the Hammonds. Though Mrs. Hammond is kinder to Anne than Mrs. Thomas ever was, the work is just as hard, and Anne finds herself again in a very busy household. Mrs. Hammond has six children - 2 sets of twins among them - all under the age of 4, and another due in May! She's able to go to school and quickly looses herself in her teacher's stories of Prince Edward Island. Mr. McDougall was born and raised on P.E.I. and has lots of pictures to show the class. Anne also finds a new imaginary friend in the hills surrounding old Miss. Haggerty's house. Her name is Violetta, and she answers Anne with her echos.

Less than two years later, Anne is packed off to the Hopetown orphanage after Mr. Hammond dies. In the asylum, Anne is simply miserable. Though she is no stranger to hard work, she practically shuts down her every emotion, afraid to let anyone or anything in. After four months however, her luck begins to change, and she is sent to P.E.I. with Mrs. Spencer to live with the Cuthberts. The book ends with Anne's arrival at the Bright River station.

I really enjoyed this book, but if you don't like reading and crying at the same time, I can't recommend it for you. It was such an emotional experience for me in fact, that after the first night, I discovered I couldn't read it just before going to bed. The story and characters kept me up at night thinking and imagining so much that I had to change my reading schedule around and read just in the mornings and afternoons.

Despite the harshness of Anne's early life, she touched everyone she came in contact with in profound ways. She was the only person in the Thomas household who Bert Thomas liked, and therefore the only one who could really get through to him. She also brought love into Mr. Johnson's life in the form of Miss. Harrisson, her first teacher. She even made old Miss. Haggerty - a woman who never wanted or even liked children - love her. Anne's spirit is a truly amazing and almost indestructible thing. Anne is incredibly precocious and I don't see how anyone could possibly help falling in love with her.

I adore the way Anne finds a sense of wonder about everything in the natural world around her. Her unbelievable thirst for knowledge and her hope and dreams for her future completely sustain her through the hard times in her life.

As for my criticism of the book, there's not much to say. One thing I found tedious especially toward the end of the book, was Anne's recounting of all the wrongs in her life. By the end I was so ready for things to get better for Anne, that I just wanted to forget all the bad stuff.

I love a story that can make me feel so much for the characters that bawl like a baby, so the fact that this book can be pretty depressing at times is not really a negative in my book. I mean, we knew her life was pretty bleak before she came to P.E.I. - there's not really any surprise there.

The writing is really quite good and gutsy (to take on a character as beloved and well-known as Anne.) Wilson is not L.M. Montgomery, and it's important to remember that when you pick up Before Green Gables, but in my opinion she does an amazing job with her subject.

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Reading Progress

12/11/2008 page 53
13.7% "Poor little Anne!"
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