My first thoughts when reading MAUD: This reads like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books! There’s something very simple, direct, and 19th century about the prose in Maud, and it instantly brought me back to all my moments learning about pioneer life as a child.
Here’s the thing, though: this is not an idyllic time. Unlike L.M. Montgomery’s whimsical Anne of Green Gables, teen Lucy Maud Montgomery's life is filled with frustration over unfulfilled ambition, Presbyterian rules, and people who just don’t understand her. In the latter, it’s a typical teenager’s life, but in the former two, it’s a life that’s really restrictive and not really conducive to a creative mind.
Maud (as L.M. Montgomery was called) starts in 1890, when the titular character is 14. While she has wonderful friends, and a budding romance with a schoolmate, Maud’s home life is dominated by her devout and conservative grandparents.
The novel is split into three books documenting three tumultuous years in Maud’s life where we see her develop as a writer and teen. To tell you more about the other two books would be spoiling, though (can you spoil a story about a historical figure that’s hundreds of years old?). Suffice to say, the years are each filled with frustration and doubt, friendship and love, and always, Maud’s feeling that she doesn’t belong.
Fishbane paints Maud as not just ahead of her schoolmates in academics, but also ahead of her time. Throughout the novel, we see Maud continually get placed in situations where she's the odd one out. She's almost an orphan, shuffled around from relative to relative, and whispered about because she's so dreamy and determined.
But as much as she's placed in that Othering role, Maud also makes choices that set her apart. Even at 14 (and you can tell, even from earlier than that), she is singularly focused on her dream and destiny of becoming a writer. She absorbs vast quantities of literature, makes hard decisions in favour of her calling, and literally uses writing as her escape. Writing is both cathartic and academic for her.
It’s this obsession that pushes Maud to become more than just a wife and mother, as so many of her contemporaries are inclined to do. It makes her desperate for more education, understanding the necessity of absorbing more literature in order to better herself. And it makes her desperate for a way to become self-sufficient in a time when women are supposed to rely on men for everything from the vote to the next glass of milk.
What you see in this book is how not just L.M. Montgomery’s real life, but her ideas for her stories get shaped and changed. It’s not the Anne books that everyone knows, but instead, an understanding of how Maud got to a place where Anne became the thing she wrote.
Reading Maud is like getting to have a really long coffee date with your favorite author when she was a teen - spilling her problems and woes. It’s one part documentation, one part reportage, and one part bittersweet sympathy. You’ll ache and be frustrated for Maud, but you’ll cheer her and when she gets a much-needed win. Bonuses: I couldn't help but use GIFs from the new Anne series on CBC (and Netflix) for this part!
Maud of Green Gables: While there isn’t actually a real house named “Green Gables” or town named “Avonlea”, there are definitely parallels between Cavendish, where Maud grew up, and the people she meets. If you’re an Anne or Emily fan, I think you’ll see those parallels pretty easily, and it’s kind of delightful when you do.
Letters & Notes: I have a thing for books where you get to see correspondence between characters, and this one has some really adorable letter writing.
Honest But Swoony Romance: I don’t want to give things away, but one of the most amazing things about this book is that there is more than one love interest without getting cliche. And...that’s all I’m going to say about that. Enjoy the swoons, guys!
Realistic Girl Friendships: While Maud celebrates the romance and friendship that are the trademarks of all of LMM’s work, it also recognizes the difficulty of keeping relationships alive and growing. It’s a really honest and bittersweet take on friendship that I appreciated so much.
Historical Writing: I haven't read a YA historical that tries to write in the style of the literature of the time, and I think it’s done successfully here. I appreciated that the prose and omniscient narration remained a bit removed from Maud, in the style of the time, but you could actually track Maud’s progression as a teen through the dialogue she uses in each section (she gets a lot more thoughtful, much like Anne, as she grows up!). The Final Word: A well-researched novel about the teen life of the iconic Anne of Green Gables author L.M. Montgomery, Maud takes the bones of one of Canada’s most celebrated authors and elevates it into historical fiction that will challenge youth. Readers fond of Anne and Montgomery’s other books will enjoy recognizing characters and moments in Maud’s life that parallel her books, but will also see how much of an escape literature became for Maud.
This isn’t always a happy story, and it’s definitely not one without hardships. What kept me going is Maud’s determination to break out of her situation. This is an unabashedly feminist take on Maud’s life, and on the lives of women in the 1890s. A solid debut.
----- MAUD by Melanie J. Fishbane is out in bookstores today! Will you be reading it? Are you an Anne of Green Gables or Emily of New Moon fan? Are you interested in reading about your favorite authors' teen lives? Let me know in the comments!
Fireworks by Katie Cotugno features Olivia and Dana, best friends who live in small town Georgia in the 90s. Dana is poor, with a mother who drinks too much, and no prospects after high school. Meanwhile, Olivia has been dreaming of being famous her whole life. When the opportunity to audition for a new girl group by a famous producer comes up, Dana accompanies Olivia to Orlando - and ends up being picked as part of Daisy Chain as well.
I'm a sucker for any kind of music story, especially ones where people have to train for success. I really liked how Katie Cotugno structured this book, though. It's definitely NOT your typical training-montage-to-big-concert kind of book. Instead, Cotugno focuses on themes of breaking out of a small-town existence, and being strong enough to understand, give, and receive love - platonic and non-platonic.
It's a unique way to approach a seemingly fun setting, but as you get into the book, you realize how perfect it is. 90s Orlando is glitzy with Disney and heat, but it's also a sleazy place where teens are seen as products, and everything feels a little unreal.
[caption id="attachment_3799" align="aligncenter" width="575"] This is 90s Orlando to me: were you a Backstreet Boys girl or an 'NSYNC fan?[/caption]
It's also a place where teens can live relatively alone with little supervision. This leads to a lot of underage drinking and drug use going on, which felt realistic. It's the perfect breeding ground for teen melodrama. Not only is there a sheltered vs. worldly thing going on between the Daisy Chain members, but there's also a lot of jealousy, backstabbing, and frustration. And nowhere is that more obvious than when Dana ends up meeting and liking Alex, the lead in an up-and-coming boy band. Olivia has a crush on him, so there's a forbidden romance/love triangle going on.
I really appreciated that the love triangle was never, ever the focus of the book, though. Nor was the focus the 90s - or even the music. While Fireworks does have moments of levity and 90s-ness, it's a bit deeper than I expected, exploring the realities of girl friendship. Cotugno's writing is confident, and she has a real grasp of what she wants her themes to be. I loved how she used each facet of this one summer experience to show more of the friendship between Olivia and Dana - how they grow, change, move on and stand alone. Above all, Fireworks is a book about learning your own strengths and what you really want - outside of what people might want for you. Book PLAYLIST: I actually had to go and make a whole playlist for Fireworks while I was reading, because it made me super nostalgic for my teen years. I really couldn't decide on a specific song for this book, so just listen and enjoy - and feel free to hit shuffle!
The Final Word: Fireworks is my first Katie Cotugno book, and I'm happy to say that it lived up to my expectations, with thoughtful, considerate writing, a strong and complex girl friendship, and a swoony boy. I went into this book expecting something fun and light, and came out with something more. While I personally would have liked a little more levity from it, I really enjoyed this classic summer contemporary. I whipped through it in a few days, and I'll definitely be reading more Katie Cotugno soon....more