“Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.” – Anne of Green Gables

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I’d heard wonderful things about Anne of Green Gables long before having the pleasure by way of this class of reading the novel. Now I get what all the fuss is about. I laughed, cried, sighed and smiled endless times. As I neared the last chapter, I even slowed down the pace of my reading to a page turning crawl in an effort to prolong the fantasy and wonderment a bit longer.

There were moments which caused me to flash back to a much younger version of me. I, too, was a dreamer often uncomfortable in my own skin. Though I’m grown now with a child of my own, I found myself relating again and again to sweet, sassy, dreamy-eyed Anne Shirley. I felt triumphant for her successes and mourned her losses as if I was living vicariously through her or like she was one of my own children. As an adult, I can relate to her from a place of distance, like a mother watching her daughter experiencing things and feelings she’d once experienced herself. I’m glad I’m reading this story now because I appreciate my memory of myself at that age but had I read this story in my youth it’s likely that it would have helped me more then.

The story fits nicely into the YA category while its third person narrator allows the story to transcend into other genres, too. Its messages and themes (family, loss, love…) are timeless, even if it’s set in an unfamiliar place and time. It would be interesting to see someone take this exact story and modernize it. Wouldn’t it be neat to see another version of this, like say Anne of Newark, NJ? I’m kidding, of course, but my point is that the tale isn’t determined by Green Gables. What makes this story so perfect is Anne. That said; I can’t help but wonder if Annie, another timeless story, was itself written as a modern/theatrical version of Anne of Green Gables. There are so many connections, including the protagonists’ names, orphan status and hair color.

Anne of Green Gables is such a sweet version of the classic American dream story. Anne, our young protagonist, starts out broken and alone yet bold and courageous in the face of some very scary things. On some level each of us is this small, lonely orphan girl with the big heart and imagination determined to rise up and tackle the world. She thinks and often says the things we’re thinking and perhaps wanting to say. It’s not that she’s fearless so much as she’s determined to be herself and willing to put herself out there to reach her goals. Of course, we meet her at a point when she has nothing to lose. We can only imagine her life prior.

I agree with biographer Irene Gammel when she says the author was ahead of her time. Nontraditional families and nontraditional gender roles are things we can appreciate today. Gammel says Montgomery herself grew up in a nontraditional home life and, in turn, she wrote a romanticized account of her own experiences. She created a fictionalized version of what she knew but in a way we can all still relate and connect to it. She wove raw human emotion with familiar themes and managed to do so without rendering any element cliché. She took what could have been a cookie cutter coming of age tale and transformed it through emotion, humor and hope into a touching, thought-provoking, believable story with real life twists and a suitable, happy ending.

Gammel also mentions Montgomery’s childhood journals. Though she wrote Anne of Green Gables when she was 30, I think her journals allowed her to metaphorically travel back in time to her own youth and write Anne from Anne’s perspective. This added depth and authenticity to the narration and positively impacted the voice of the novel. I’m sure the story would have been well written still had she not kept those journals but surely it wouldn’t have been the same. As I set out to tackle my own YA story, I think I’ll dig out my old diaries and journals, too.

A good book allows us to escape our reality but we are more often drawn to stories when we can see ourselves, or parts of ourselves, in the characters. Anne is not just a likable little orphan girl who we get to watch grow up. She is also a manifestation of our own desires, dreams, fears and insecurities. We can all relate to Anne because on some level we’ve all been there. We love Anne and we root and empathize for her because she gives us hope in our own lives.

My daughter is just three, but I look forward to the day I can give her my copy of Anne of Green Gables so we can discuss it. Until then, I’ll cherish having had this opportunity to read it myself.

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