Review: Rilla of Ingleside


We have reached the end of my Annetober adventure with the tear-jerker Rilla of Ingleside. Of all the books in Anne Shirley’s series, this was my favorite. Its tone is starkly different from the others. Set during the First World War, we see our beloved characters deal with fear and grief that gives them all a new depth.

Rilla of Ingleside is told from the viewpoint of Anne’s youngest daughter. She is the baby of the family, and they often worry that she will always see life as a playground. She is concerned about looking pretty and winning the affections of a young man she has a crush on. Rilla often has silly tantrums, crying over things that don’t matter. Soon she will have real tragedies to weep over.

Her older brother, Jem, is the first to enlist in the army to help defend England. He has always had a fighting spirit, playing with toy soldiers and dreaming of being a hero in battle. It’s heartbreaking to read of Anne’s grief when one of her children sets off on a journey that might lead to death. We remember her as the optimistic young woman whose daydreams could ease anyone’s worries; now she is the one who needs consolation.

Dog Monday, Jem’s pet, follows him to the train station as he is leaving. Monday does not return to Ingleside, waiting at the train station for his master to return. This broke my heart. The town takes notice of this loyal dog who waits each time a train arrives to see Jem step out. A doghouse is built for Monday so that the creature can at least be comfortable as he waits. The Blythes come regularly to bring him food, but cannot coax him to return home. This was one of my favorite storylines, one only L.M. Montgomery can write with such beauty.

Walter, the second oldest Blythe son, does not want to go to war. He wants to go to college, but he faces so much shame in college–even receiving a white feather accusing him of cowardice. Tormented by shame, he enlists as well. This is when Rilla grows up; Walter is her favorite brother, and she cannot bear the thought that he might not come back. Nonetheless, he returns home and prepares to leave for war.

The Blythes now have two sons to pray for, two sons who have put their lives on the line..

Rilla now feels that she wants to make a difference. She does not fuss so much about her looks, and only thinks about the men of the town when she prays they’ll return alive from war. She leads several charitable societies and even takes in a ‘war baby,’ the child of a soldier and a woman who died at childbirth, mothering him until his father returns from the front lines. She is not recognizable as the Rilla we meet in the first chapters.

When tragedy grips the Blythe family, Anne’s optimism appears to die. One of their sons will not return. The happy family we have read about in previous books is broken. This is a touch of reality in a world so often a refuge for us when we endure tragedy. It all seems more real because we see that even Anne Shirley Blythe can be so devastated that she shuts down. Our heroine becomes relatable to us; it is an honor to grieve with her.

Rilla of Ingleside is a sad way to end the Anne series, but I thought it fitting. L.M. Montgomery closes her masterpiece of a series with a novel that is directed straight to our hearts. She gives us a younger heroine we can think about when we feel sad, inadequate, or unwanted. She helps us through grief by making it a regular part of her world–the perfect world where we previously would not have imagined there could be war.

My heart aches as I write this. The book is so powerful that I will never forget the emotions it evoked in me. Though my heart aches, I am thankful that there was some loss in the perfect world of Anne Shirley; it makes me think that there is nothing wrong with being sad, devastated, and that there are some losses that even the imagination cannot ease.

I am grateful for L.M. Montgomery’s series and glad that I took the time to read it from beginning to end. It will take your emotions in all sorts of directions; it will make you joyful, nervous, it will make you fall in love and it will make you want to cry. There is a reason it is a classic, and now I understand. I look forward to reading it from start to end again one day.

Review: Rainbow Valley


My journey through Annetober this year showed me many fictional places that I wished I could visit. From Avonlea to the House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery knew how to create a place that could heal any soul, a place to which readers would become attached. Though I wish that I could visit these places, they are alive in my heart.

One of these places is a field after which the seventh book is named. Rainbow Valley stands out from the other books because it follows the perspectives of Anne Blythe’s children rather than her own. The brood from Anne of Ingleside have grown old enough to understand things–old enough to recognize a soul in trouble and want to help.

Not only is Rainbow Valley different in this sense. It takes us to a different house where we meet a new family. The Meredith children live in an old manse next to a graveyard. I thought this an excellent way to contrast their life with that of the Blythes. While the Blythes play in the fields of Rainbow Valley, the Manse children have games on headstones. They wander the graveyard, singing and chasing insects. Their paradise is a place of death.

The Meredith children stumble upon Rainbow Valley one day when the Blythes are playing there. From that day on, the children become friends; the Merediths are welcome to visit Rainbow Valley whenever they want. This only provides temporary relief, however. They still have no mother, and practically have no father. Mr. Meredith is an absentminded minister who has not thought about their comfort in years.

As the Meredith children remain motherless, they get into unbelievable scrapes. They are not aware, most of the time, that what they’re doing is not acceptable to society. To them, playing and singing on headstones is normal. It isn’t until Faith Meredith goes to church without socks one day that their situation becomes a public scandal.

People begin to talk about how the Presbyterian minister does not know how to care for his children. Whispers circulate that the man should remarry for their sake. It’s out of the question for him. He has not yet recovered from the death of his wife, Cecilia. He’s convinced that he never will.

The Manse in which he lives with his children is a reflection of his own soul: it needs tending, it is lonely, and there are shadows everywhere.

In my review for Anne of Green Gables, I suggested that book one was the story of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Anne might have come into their lives, but the Cuthberts made the frightening decision to adopt the orphan girl. I have the same opinion about Rainbow Valley: it is the story of Mr. Meredith facing an important decision. Will he choose a life of endless mourning, or will he seek a wife to be a good mother to his children–especially after he becomes aware that they are in constant trouble?

Mr. Meredith’s heart is eager to move on. Soon he will meet a woman who’ll enchant him in a different, quiet way–a woman who is difficult to get, because of a promise she made–and perhaps that will make him more determined to fight for her love. If the wellbeing of his children was not enough to bring on a life change, a personal challenge might.

The Meredith children affect us in a different way than the Blythes; they represent loneliness while the Blythes live in a state of joy. They frolic in a graveyard while the Blythes have a field to themselves. They have no mother, while everyone who meets Anne knows she is a great parent.

If you have a ‘Meredith child’ in your life, a person who is alone and could use some company, would you invite them over to play?

Rainbow Valley challenges us to reach out to people in the graveyards of life. Not only that, it warns us that grief can take one over. If we allow grief to consume us, those we love will be affected–and it will be almost as if they were dead, as well.

Life alone is not the answer to any problem, and if you have children or others who depend on you, then you will have to make the frightening choice to stop grieving and open the window. If you live in your own Rainbow Valley and know somebody stuck in a graveyard, share your adventures with them.

This book offers a new perspective on Montgomery’s world that I truly appreciate. It was a welcome break from the colorful nature of Anne’s other books; it acknowledged that not everyone in the world knows true love. Will the Meredith children have a new mother at the end? Read this delightful novel to find out.

At last, we are nearing the end of the beloved series by L.M. Montgomery. Next week I will share my thoughts on my favorite book of them all, Rilla of Ingleside. Until then, I hope you are having a great holiday season, despite the challenges of this year!

Review: Anne of Ingleside


My journey through Annetober took me from Anne’s House of Dreams to Anne of Ingleside, the fifth book in the beloved series by L.M. Montgomery.

This book differs from the first because it focuses on the Blythe children–Jem, Walter, Shirley, Diana, Anne, and newborn Rilla. (If you hadn’t caught on yet, Rilla is short for Marilla, who certainly is deserving of a child to be named after her!) Ingleside was the second home that Anne and Gilbert lived in after their marriage, and it is where they stayed to raise their loving family.

This chronicle of Anne’s life allows us to laugh and cry over the years when their children are still young enough to get into trouble. With a big family like theirs, there’s always trouble to get into. We are delighted whenever one of the Blythe children finds themself in an awkward spot; it’s a comical way for them to learn a lesson–and for readers to learn it, too.

I was impressed at the distinct personalities each of the children have. Jem is a soldier trapped in a child’s body, ready to fight but too small to fight any real battles. Walter is a dreamer, very much like his mother was in the first book, and I could relate to his sensitive ways. Diana struggles to make friends, and for a while is insecure enough to associate with anyone at school, no matter the trouble it might bring about.

Having by now finished the series, I am doubly impressed that these personalities matured consistently. Walter will not suddenly stop being a dreamer when he’s a young man; Jem is still ready to fight. That is a post for another day, though.

Gilbert Blythe shone in this book. He is a hard-working doctor, well-respected in the community, often losing sleep to go and see a patient. In this book, Anne’s dreams seemed to move aside so that we could have a better view of him. At last we can appreciate Gilbert’s accomplishments, seeing him for the intelligent and responsible man he is. While I had already admired him, I appreciated that Montgomery gave him a spot of more importance.

As for Anne, she is happy to run her house, already having spent so much time as a schoolteacher. If you remember that Anne and Gilbert both were the best students at their schools, you might think that Montgomery was giving us a chance to appreciate Gilbert’s good grades as well as Anne’s.

Like in the other books, you’ll find plenty of fascinating characters in Anne of Ingleside. Susan the housekeeper, in particular, was my favorite. She’s a great help to Anne with the children, more of an aunt or beloved nanny than a housekeeper. Her wisdom helps the family out of many scrapes, and she has some lines that made me chuckle. Susan has a solution for everything.

My favorite scenes in this novel were those of forgiveness. When Jem discovers that the pearl necklace he bought his mother was fake, he thinks he has done a great wrong; he begs her to forgive him for having fooled her into thinking they were real, but mothers always know best. Anne assures him that the effort he made to save up for that pearl necklace made it worth more than a handful of real pearls.

I also loved how Anne and Gilbert settled a disagreement, towards the end of the book. With age come new worries and stresses. Gilbert is busy with work, and Anne has begun to notice in herself signs of aging–her red hair turning silver, her energy no longer what it used to be. It has lowered her spirits enough that she and Gilbert have a misunderstanding. We discover in the end that their love is still young and full of spirit. I think this scene was meant to remind us readers that we should always tell a person how we feel about them, because when life becomes a challenge, kind words do help.

The storytelling in this whole series is magnificent. We meet and say farewell to characters in such a natural manner that we could almost reminisce on them as people we actually knew in real life. They are so vivid that we can stop in a moment of distraction and think, “Hmm, I wonder what happened to Captain Jim?” or “What’s new with Susan?” This is the sort of story that beats time; it wins hearts of readers for generations, and it takes great skill to create such a world.

I am nostalgic for such a world. I can easily imagine that these places–Green Gables, Ingleside, the House of Dreams–do exist in some dimension we can only access in between book covers. I am nostalgic for a world where people spoke in person, built things with their hands, valued the concept of a loving family, and passed traditions on to their children. 

The Internet connects us with friends, which is wonderful, but we lost so many valuable talents–such as the ability to make our own clothing, or to enjoy the silence during a beautiful sunset, or to value gifts like Jem’s necklace. It is fortunate that books like these keep such powerful, warm places alive for us today.

In the next book, Rainbow Valley, Anne is no longer the main character. It focuses on her children as they grow into adolescents–and make more mistakes. The Blythe family is flourishing, and they invite us to join them in their play through the book; I will post my thoughts on it next week.

Review: Anne’s House of Dreams


Last week, I expressed frustration over the pacing of L.M. Montgomery’s novel Anne of Windy Poplars. I didn’t like the pacing; perhaps that was my inner romantic craving sweeter scenes. As suspected, Anne’s House of Dreams made me forget the impatient taste its predecessor left.

Anne’s House of Dreams satisfied that itch in me hoping something great would happen. The very first chapter, in fact, is promising. It opens with her wedding to Gilbert Blythe (at last!) 

How Gilbert must have struggled to believe that his bride was the girl who broke a slate on his head in school! He deserved that headache, of course; he had teased her about her red hair. I think that Anne held her grudge for too long, though, until she was no longer punishing Gilbert but herself.

This is the moment that readers were waiting for: Anne and Gilbert starting over for real.

Gilbert makes more of an appearance in Anne’s stories following Anne’s House of Dreams. I like him; he’s quiet, intelligent, and has eyes for no one but his ‘Anne-girl.’ I have the feeling that, had she never accepted him, he wouldn’t have found another woman. He’s the sort that only falls once. He was so certain of his love that he waited for her to come around.

After the wedding, Anne and Gilbert begin their new life in a house he found. Anne calls this new place the House of Dreams. It’s built on a hill overseeing the ocean. We might think of such a home as isolated, but–as other books have shown–no place is depressing if Anne lives in it.

She has a way of attracting broken souls and showing them that there is light. Even a poor, wretched cat we met in Anne of the Island came to her for healing. It is no surprise, then, that this lonely old house should find itself full of color after the Blythes move in. Souls in neighboring houses flock to Anne to bask in her presence.

The old house on the hill becomes a cheerful place of hope.

I must conclude that the ‘dull’ feel of Anne of Windy Poplars was due to it being a sort of prologue. It was Anne’s world shining but taking a deep breath before presenting us with this delightful chronicle.

Not all waiting periods are bad, and if you are being forced to wait for something, hold your breath: good things are on their way.

In this instance, the pause makes way for characters that steal our hearts. My favorite character in Anne’s House of Dreams is Captain Jim, a charismatic old sailor with countless stories to tell, the sort of person that Anne gets along with. There were moments when their bond reminded me of Anne’s bond with Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables. (At this point in the series, it feels like so long since we’ve read about Matthew. I will never forget the chapter in which the confused man brings an orphan girl home from the train station!)

Captain Jim delights in making Anne feel at home. He knows the people in this town and all of their stories; he knows why they are hurting and, at his advanced age, has a great deal of compassion to offer the world. I was so happy when his maritime story was published as a book. He must have been delighted to revisit those moments!

Anne and Gilbert’s marriage turned out to be a happy, trusting union. They supported each other through times of tragedy, neither of them losing hope, and their tragedy was compensated with great joy. 

I cannot finish this essay without adding that Gilbert is a good man. He’s been the most patient person in the world waiting for his Anne-girl; after their marriage, he works hard to ensure that she is happy. He never asks her to quit the daydreaming that drew him to her in the first place. They are at peace, and so are readers.

Anne’s stay in the House of Dreams cannot last forever; after all, happy families must grow. We can be sure that she will be a source of light when they move to their second home.

Next week, I will share my thoughts about Anne of Ingleside. I hope you had a happy Halloween! What did you read for the spookiest day of the year?

Review: Anne of the Island


If you’ve been following my posts this autumn, you’ll see I accidentally wound up participating in a thing called Annetober. I gather it is a cute term for doing something Anne Shirley-related in October. Reading through her series counts, and I’m already wondering how I’ll participate next year!

The third book in L.M. Montgomery’s series did not disappoint, though it did play with my emotions. Anne of the Island chronicles Anne’s adventures as she transitions from girl to young woman. In college, she learns more about people, encountering diverse personalities. She also faces the pain of losing a friend when, during a visit home, someone dear to her passes away after battling the consumption.

Avonlea is changing. People are moving in, while others leave or die. These changes make Avonlea a place that Anne struggles to recognize. Even though she is no longer a child and her daydreaming has gone down a notch, she still struggles with a voice inside of her that is reluctant to grow up and accept that nothing stays the same. 

She also refuses to let go of certain beliefs. This stubbornness might have been a natural reaction to growth, especially since Anne’s childhood was not easy. The stable ground she found in the little world of the Cuthberts is gradually being taken from her; she faces a future of difficult choices. 

Despite her efforts to make the best of it, she is facing life head-on almost completely alone. Bouts of homesickness in college show us how hard it is for her.

I can’t deny that, despite her obvious growth and the changes surrounding her, Anne’s reactions in this novel annoyed me. She doesn’t want to grow up, acting as if she’s been betrayed when her best friend makes a life-altering choice. She knows love when she sees it, but behaves otherwise, clinging to a childish vision of what ‘the perfect man’ should be. Later, when the person whose love she spurned seems to be moving on, this makes her angry. I hope that she will have gotten past this stage of ‘growing up’ by the next book, Anne of Windy Poplars. I’d like to see all those years she spent studying amount to fair, wise decisions.

I’m a dreamer myself; I can understand how hard it is to let go of ‘the ideal’ once you have set your mind to it. Ironically, this ‘ideal’ is not good enough for Anne in the end, either.

That said, I do sympathize with Anne about some of the ridiculous marriage proposals she received over the course of this book. 

Perhaps this element of this plot, her stubbornness, was added to remind readers that what looks perfect is not always best. The beliefs we held as children are not realistic, and no matter how we’d like to choose our own path, life is not a story we are writing. It cannot be controlled. We have to make the best we can with the twists and turns God offers us.

I did enjoy this book despite the moments of annoyance. L.M. Montgomery uses words to create a world for us that is warm, no matter what season it happens to be in Avonlea…or wherever Anne is at the time. 

The mistakes that Anne makes in Anne of the Island are comforting. I could relate to her mistakes too much, and this might be the reason for my annoyance. I was forced to remember that life will not be as I pictured it. We become stronger when we journey down the path set for us.

Readers in a similar phase of life might find comfort in Anne’s awkwardness. Are your friends moving on from the schoolhouse days? So are hers. Do you have a difficult choice to make? Here, Anne faces several. Have you lost someone close to you? Our heroes in our favorite stories deal with pain and grief.

These are phases of life that no human walks gracefully, and neither did Anne.

The conclusion of Anne of the Island did satisfy me, but I had an aftertaste of frustration. I wanted to shake her and say, ‘It should not have taken you so long, Anne Shirley Cuthbert!’ We all have a friend in real life that we want to say this to. The truth of this book is that everyone grows at their own pace, and giving their shoulders a shake will frighten them into slowing their pace. Only sun and water make a plant grow; if you love it, you should be patient.

I now move on to Anne of Windy Poplars. If you’ve been following my little Annetober journey, comment and tell me what you think about my conclusions!

Review: Anne of Avonlea


L.M. Montgomery’s theme in her classic series surrounding Anne Shirley appears to be change. It’s the sort of series you’ll want read when you’re about to open a new door in life. It reminds you that discomfort will cause your character to become stronger, helping you face the world.

If you’ve been to Literature class, you might have read Anne of Green Gables. A great many people don’t make it past that first book. There is treasure to be found in those installments that follow it, including Anne of Avonlea, the second book in this great series.

If you read my blog post on Anne of Green Gables, you know I believed change to be the greatest theme of the novel–how Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert made a scary decision, clearing the way for new forms of joy. I see the same theme of change in Anne of Avonlea, but it it focuses more on Anne.

Anne of Avonlea presents new challenges for our dreamy heroine. Having taken on the profession of local schoolteacher, she must face a reality. The reality is that people, especially children, do not always behave as we’d like them to. She also discovers patience to be a virtue that can only be strengthened over time.

Are these not lessons that we readers have learned at some point? L.M. Montgomery makes Anne’s experiences our own.

We can reflect with amusement on Anne as a child and how her accidents brought poor Marilla such grief. Anne is fifteen when book two begins and, though she has outgrown much of her her mischievous side, remains a daydreamer.

In some ways, this helps her. She is able to relate to her students by speaking to them in the language that children understand, dreams. However, it also gives her unrealistic expectations that she must overcome in order to be more productive.

It becomes, therefore, a weakness: The first time that Anne has to punish a student, she feels so guilty that she cries.

Anne of Avonlea also explores themes of human nature. Not only does it highlight that people have flaws, but it celebrates the differences these flaws create. One of the clearest examples of this is in the Cuthberts’ grumpy new neighbor.

He lives next door, and he’s ready to wage war over a cow. It is satisfying when we see that she isn’t romanticizing this neighbor’s temper; she is old enough to accept that everybody has a personality, for better or for worse.

Our dreamer is still dreaming, then, but has planted a foot on the ground. She still longs for the ideal world of her imaginings, but has sufficient realism to survive as a teacher and a young adult.

For Anne, this involves another exercise in patience; it means accepting a world where not everybody believes as they should, resolving to leave it a better place nonetheless.

If the theme of book one was change, then I believe the theme of book two is waking up. Even a dreamer cannot blind herself to reality all her life, especially if she plans to make a difference.

As humans, waking up involves being open to differences. To successfully become a teacher, Anne allows such change to take place. The question Anne of Avonlea asks us, then, is will we do the same?

There isn’t much romance in Anne of Avonlea, her focus being on these goals rather than love. She is a perfect young matchmaker for other hearts, but–I consider this a weakness–her ‘ideal man’ lingers in the back of her mind. This keeps keeping her grounded and single, even when the town begins predicting her marriage to Gilbert Blythe.

Gilbert, for his part, waits patiently in the background. He cheers her on as she succeeds and comforts her when she fails. He watches her grow as teacher, sees her blossom into a young lady.

Time and patience are the strongest warriors, are they not?

Only in one scene does Anne begin to wonder if there might be more to Gilbert than an old schoolfellow…but she quickly returns to preparations for college. Gilbert, perceiving the brief shift in demeanor, continues to wait for his dream woman; now, though, he has enough hope to be…patient.