"Marilla of Green Gables" by Sarah McCoy; William Morrow (300 pages, $26.99)
Fans of Anne Shirley ("Anne of Green Gables") might understandably be skeptical of a prequel to the beloved stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery. And since the gorgeous Kevin Sullivan productions' Marilla Cuthbert (Anne's elderly guardian) is pretty much Colleen Dewhurst, and who dares tamper with that legacy?
But fans might wonder, as McCoy did, about Marilla's earlier life. What was her childhood like? What of that barely mentioned affection between her and John Blythe, father of Anne's true love Gilbert?
Sarah McCoy (with humility and research, both spelled out in her endnotes) invites us back to Avonlea, to imagine a different girl's story, one of wrenching loss, abolitionist work, and romantic discord. The first sections of the book are the strongest, reintroducing us to Marilla, her brother Matthew, and friend Rachel Lynde in their youth.
The novel is an imaginative gift to fans of the original books, with nothing outlandish to alienate those who loved them. Should readers quibble with each other over whether the characters created by Montgomery match those by McCoy, I suspect they would enjoy a lively book-club chat - over raspberry cordial, perhaps?
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