This review is dedicated to Amber Blackburn, who loved this story, and Barabara Blackburn, who loved reading it to her.
Sometimes a book transcends the location and era it was written in and manages to find an audience everywhere. Anne of Green Gables is one of those books. Initially written in 1908, it is now published in 36 languages, been adapted for TV and film multiple times, and has musical versions performed around the world.
Set in a small Prince Edward Island town in the late 19th century, it is about a young redheaded orphan named Anne Shirley, who is mistakenly adopted by a pair of unmarried siblings who had wanted a boy to help run the farm.
There is not a single thing in the above paragraph that should be relatable to me.
And yet it is, because Anne is essentially a gamer out of her time. You throw her ahead by a century and she’d be playing D&D for sure…probably as a Forever DM. She has a wild imagination, something which permeates every part of her life because she really doesn’t have any other outlet for it.
The story itself could be considered surprisingly uneventful. There are no epic adventures to be had (other than those going on inside her own head). It is, rather, about the everyday misadventures of growing up. Heck, one of the exciting climaxes of her life is finally getting a dress with puffed sleeves, and one of the tragedies is accidentally turning her hair green.
This might not seem exciting, but it’s actually where the book shines, because L.M. Montgomery really understood what it was like to be a kid. More importantly, she conveys this in a completely non-judgemental way.
You see, Anne Shirley is quite silly, ridiculously overdramatic, and romanticizes literally everything in her life. She is determined to infuse everything with as much importance as humanly possible, and then add a bit more for good measure. She is hyperbole incarnate.
But you know what? So were you. You probably just don’t want to admit it.
This first struck me as Anne was being brought home by the soft-spoken and sympathetic Matthew Cuthbert, when Anne started renaming all the features she sees in Green Gables, such as the unimaginatively named Barry’s Pond being rechristened The Lake of Shining Waters.
When I read that, I remembered exploring the Oshawa Creek with my brother as a kid, and coming across this huge steep barren slope that rose up along one side, higher than anything else we had ever seen. We named it The Cliff of a Thousand Nightmares.
And that was just the beginning. When I said Anne was overdramatic, I meant it. Those puffed sleeves I mentioned before are something she yearns for endlessly, as if not having them is a woefully heavy burden she must carry, and I remembered just how important it was for me to have certain clothes I thought were cool, or the right toys.
Then there were points where Anne would get incredibly upset over things that didn’t even happen! Such as imagining her best friend growing up, getting married, and moving away…and literally hating the non-existent husband for taking her best friend away from her. And, yeah, I remembered getting really worked up over things that happened only in my imagination, too.
Time and again I would have these little revelations, but what makes this book stand out is how Montgomery writes about it. Because Anne of Green Gables can be read in two completely different ways, depending on your age.
As a kid, Anne is relatable. Sure, she’s a bit extra, anyone can see that, but at the same time you understand everything about her. The book does not mock her for her behaviour or suggest to the reader that her feelings are of trivial importance.
As an adult, we can look at that same time of our lives, and let ourselves laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Not out of a sense of shame, but understanding. Whether it’s now or a hundred years ago, some parts of growing up never change.
When Anne feels like she would rather die before forgiving that horrible Gilbert Blythe for making fun of her red hair, the adult in you can’t help but roll your eyes and want her to get over it. But the kid in you remembers just how powerful and real such grudges could be.
In recommending this book, I want to say that anyone of any age can enjoy it. But I think those who will get the most out of it are adults reading it to their kids. Because this book is more than just a story about life in rural Canada a hundred years ago… it’s a bridge between parents and children.
It’s a way for grown-ups to remember that they too used to name places in ominous or grandiose ways, get worked up over literally nothing, or remember that the petty grudges you held against someone as a kid didn’t feel petty at all at the time—they felt like life and death.
Growing up is a silly, chaotic mess. Anne of Green Gables reminds us to let our kids enjoy every minute of it.