“a delightful, escapist slice of life”
Red-headed, hot-tempered orphan Anne of Green Gables is one of those children’s book characters people know about even if they’ve never read the actual book. She’s feisty, imaginative, always getting into scrapes and completely lovable. But what fewer people realise is that Anne was just the first in a series that followed our heroine through school-teaching and college, to marriage and life as a country doctor’s wife. Those later books are far too sentimental for me – the last is called Anne’s House of Dreams – but I remembered the second, Anne of Avonlea, with as much fondness as I felt for Anne of Green Gables. Anne is sixteen at the beginning of the book. She’s been away to school for a year and has come back to be teacher at Avonlea school. Teacher – at sixteen – what were these people thinking? But she gets on with the job very nicely thank you, despite the misgivings of all around her when she declares she will rule her classroom with love rather than beating her children. There’s a fair number of scrapes again and Anne continues to look for the romance in the everyday. But unlike the first book, here Anne isn’t seeking a home and acceptance; she has already won these things. While the main focus is still on Anne and her life, other people’s stories take centre stage a lot of the time, so that this feels more like the story of a community. And though some romantic ends are tied up in the book’s closing pages, they’re not quite the ones the reader has been hoping for.
I did enjoy my reread of Anne of Avonlea. This was actually the first of the Anne books I read years ago, so for me Anne is more the young adult presented here than the affection-starved orphan of the first book. It’s a fascinating look into the world of rural Canada at the beginning of the twentieth century, a delightful, escapist slice of life. I’m not sure many of today’s young readers would give it a second glance, when you consider the fast-paced and hard-hitting stories that are marketed towards them. But why not? It’s about growing up and figuring who you are and where you fit in the world. And it is rather lovely.
More to Read!
Obviously, you should read Anne of Green Gables if you haven’t yet. There are some children’s classics that don’t live up their promise, but AoGG is NOT one of them. And if you love Anne of Avonlea, you’ll probably enjoy Anne of the Island, when Anne finally gets to go to university. I wouldn’t bother with the other books in the series, but you never know, they might do it for you. And while you’re in the market for orphans, you could try Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster.