Review: Anne of Windy Poplars


I journeyed through the world of Anne Shirley this autumn, accidentally participating in a delightful trend called Annetober. Each time I finished one of her books, I would write my thoughts in a journal.

Here are my thoughts for Anne of Windy Poplars. If you’re interested, last week I posted my thoughts about Anne of the Island.

It chronicles the three years of Anne’s life she spent as a full-time teacher. While she teaches, she’s waiting for Gilbert to finish college so they can get married.

Windy Poplars is written in a different format: L.M. Montgomery shows us Anne’s feeling by means of letters to Gilbert, many of which are long and Anne-ish. She can’t help going into rants about things she finds beautiful or bemoaning what she thinks unjust.

Anne of Windy Poplars has more promise of a loving future than the previous books; still, I found myself becoming impatient. I understood why she had to wait three years for Gilbert to finish college. Nonetheless, I felt that readers deserved more romance at this point. I kept waiting for a sweet scene with Gilbert to show that they were in love, but we mostly got shown this in Anne’s letters. Because Gilbert’s replies were never shared, it felt rather one-sided, almost as if Anne was making it up.

In short, I found Windy Poplars to drag on, sometimes wondering if it was necessary to the series in the first place.

That said, I have to admit that Anne is a masterfully crafted character. She is consistent with her optimism and willingness to work hard. She gives her students the attention that they need, spends her free time learning about her neighbors, and even asks a local about the deceased in a nearby graveyard. Instead of thinking the graveyard frightening, Anne calls it romantic. 

Although these years dragged on, they revealed an Anne who discovered the beauty of normalcy. She learns patience that her vocations entail, both her work as a teacher and her future as a married woman.

When I wasn’t frustrated about its pace, this book made me wonder if I am able to see the beauty in everyday life–the ritual, the routine. Anne tends to her students every day; few things seem to change. Routine is a part of life, much more so than a wedding. 

Contrary to popular belief, if we live our lives fully, we will spend more time doing mundane things. Events like weddings are brief flashes in our long-term memories. We can’t live waiting for exceptional events to take place, because if we do, we blind ourselves to the ordinary and don’t live as we ought to.

One moral I took from Anne of Windy Poplars is that fulfilling lives are composed of ‘ordinary’ moments. We come alive when we learn to recognize and share them with those around us. One small opportunity to make a child smile should not be wasted; this is something we learn through Anne.

Anne’s stay at Windy Poplars reminds me that periods of growth in our lives are quiet. During these periods, it is easy to believe that nothing is changing, or that we won’t achieve the things we set our minds and passions to. Real change is slow. We are unlikely to see the improvement until we look back, a decade later.

Though I found Anne of Windy Poplars to be a slow read, I reflected on it as a writer. From that angle, I realized it might have been intended as foreshadowing for the things that are to take place in the next installment. I had the happy feeling that, with these gentle chapters, L.M. Montgomery is preparing us for delightful adventures.

These ‘smaller events’ were not insignificant after all. Great feasts are composed of small dishes. Vast palaces are made of small bricks raising them up. Just so, a book in which the scenes are quiet doesn’t have to be a bad thing. These quiet scenes are preparing us for a symphony.

Finally, let us not forget the comfort of a life lived in peace. Even if you did not do anything extraordinary or heroic by the end of your journey on earth, you’ll still have memories to reflect on with a smile.

On that day, ask yourself: Did you live a life at peace with yourself? Did you enjoy the gently crackling hearth of a fireplace on a cold winter’s night, or count snowflakes as they fell? Did you gather the leaves outside your door as they turned crisp and golden?

Anne of Windy Poplars reminded me of these small blessings, all great reminders of a life lived to its fullest.

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.

Review: Anne of Green Gables


The title Anne of Green Gables is so often spoken of that I was under the impression that I had read it before. In reality, I’d never picked up the book, but it is so beloved that I’m sure I’m not the only person who considers it an old friend–even if they have only heard the title.

It’s fair to say that everyone–or at least most people–are familiar with Anne, the orphan girl adopted by the Cuthbert siblings. It’s known that they were hoping for a boy to help with the farm work, so she was almost sent back. This book is more than a simple girls can do what boys do; it has layers. You can dig, and oh! how delightful it is to dig.

Some of Anne’s most humorous mistakes have been giggled over, such as accidentally dyeing her hair green or breaking her tablet on Gilbert Blythe’s head. This is the surface. If you do not read the book as it is meant to be, you will miss out on the deeper things, the meat of it: You will perhaps not notice what I believe to be the most important points in this story.

I think it’s fair to begin with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. In a way, this is their story: They sent for an orphan boy to help them in their advanced years, and with the appearance of Anne, faced a bewildering decision indeed. I was so proud of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert when they made what was probably the most frightening decision of their lives, the choice to change their mundane lifestyle and raise a little girl together.

Consider how frightening it must have been for Matthew and Marilla to come up with the resolve to make this choice. Especially when Anne went into her hysterical rants, the sudden disturbance of the silence they’d grown accustomed to must have been terrifying. Because of this, when Marilla acted harshly towards Anne’s (many) silly accidents, I perceived it as the product of a deep-set fear. She must have worried that perhaps she was too old to raise a girl correctly.

Few people speak of Matthew and Marilla’s courageous choice to accept the dare.

Anne’s growth from wily daydreamer to studious young woman is my second point. She had relied on her daydreams as an orphan in order to keep sane, but as she settles in with the Cuthberts and at her new school, we can see her learning to contain her nerves and focus. This is also an incredible feat! In fact, when Anne has grown older and almost finished her studies, Marilla notes that she has become quieter. She no longer falls into paragraph-long anxious rants.

Her rivalry with Gilbert Blythe might have been the motivator for this admirable change, but it creates a new Anne who is no longer simply the former orphan girl, the one no one wanted. She is ready to change the world, becoming a scholar and hoping to be a teacher.

Apart from these points, I must note that the prose sparkles. Nearly every sentence is quotable and will help the reader in some way. Anne’s quotes are poetic and work like balm to the weary heart; in this way, I believe she healed Matthew and Marilla without their noticing. Ultimately, they needed her more than she needed them. She came to sprinkle life into their graying years, after they had followed the same monotonous routines for most of their lives.

Anne Shirley gave Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert reasons to accept change. She was a reason for them to improve themselves; she gave them something young to nurture in their elder years, and these were, as a result, their best years.

Perhaps this book feels familiar to most of us because of its theme of growth. We all have blind spots and weaknesses. All of us have a character arc that could lead us to becoming different people entirely. When faced with these arcs, we feel fear; will we proceed with the life-changing decisions like Matthew and Marilla did? Will we face our weaknesses head-on and work to change, like Anne?

Contemplate your life; you will identify these character arcs if you are brave enough.

Books like Anne of Green Gables encourage us to face these changes and to grow. They also provide escapism with their soothing words, taking us away from this often painful world for a little while.

When you pick up a timeless book like this, you are holding more than pages bound by glue. You’re holding comfort, timelessness, a loyal friend with words to heal any wound…and to encourage you to be brave. 

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens


s-l1000

After one month in its pages, I have finished The Pickwick Papers. It is part of my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge, one of the longer ones on the list. I’m unable to critique writing by my favorite author. How can I nitpick the gripping prose, the humorous twists and turns, the delightful poetry?

I cannot criticize work by Charles Dickens, so instead I will continue wishing I could write like him.

If I were to write like Charles Dickens, I imagine I would focus on the characters. There are so many, and the author follows many of their storylines. This way, we can see him weaving an elaborate world. How could I follow so many characters at once? If I wanted to write like him, I would need to practice having an eye on each and every one of them.

There would be a past for every traitor, a flaw for every hero. I would make readers hesitate to judge anyone harshly. I would give even the most unlikeable characters their humanity. Dialogue would be a treat to read because of my attention to dialect, the nuances that separate one protagonist from the other.

With enough detail, the most fantastic main character will feel real.

I would use words to bring out the chasm between the wealthy and poor, the places no one wants to go and the places everyone wants to be. I would show readers the homeless and destitute, how they are forgotten but still human. Men, women, and children in factories and poorhouses would have their voices heard.

My prose would have to be so graceful that the words melt into poetry. I would paint pictures in which the walls, the carpet, the tea kettle all play a part. They would be like blended colors. With my art, readers would drink in the paragraph without complaining about its length. I would immerse them so that they don’t remember how long the book is; they are part of the story.

I cannot criticize Charles Dickens. I can only hope that one day I will write something with such immortality. His works can be heavy because of their length. These novels have many chapters because they were first published as serials. Oh, to go back in time! What a delightful thought: a world in which people all went to the news stand, looking for the next chapter of their favorite story.

Maybe one day, that trend will return to life. For now, I will read these stories and bask in their light.

I’ve found time to read historical fiction this year, modern works I haven’t included in my reading list because they’re not classics. I’m doing this for research: the novel I’m working on is historical fiction. There is no better way to know the time period than reading stories about it. However, the titles on the 2019 Classic Novel Challenge are priorities.

My next classic read will be My Antonia by Willa Cather.

I hope your springtime has been pleasant; what are you reading now?

Review: Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum


Readers have been enchanted by the tale of Peter Pan for generations, sympathizing with the boy who didn’t want to grow up and the children who went on an adventure with him. Having read the book twice, it was exciting to find Never Never at the bookstore–because it sheds more light on the legendary Neverland.

When it comes to villains in a story, there’s so much we don’t know. Why did this person turn bitter and hateful? Which events turned him into such a haunted soul?

Never Never painted such a beautiful and sad past for Captain Hook. The tables had turned when I closed the book—it was Pan I hated most.

James Hook is a boy who has only one dream: To be a pirate. In real life, though, he longs to become a man and make his father proud. These two desires make for a powerful character, given that he’s only a boy when the novel starts, preparing to head off to boarding school.

That’s when he meets Peter Pan who tells him about the place Neverland, where children don’t have to grow up. Even though he wants to be a man and make his father proud, he wants to see the pirates; he agrees to go with Peter to visit, trusting that he’ll be returned in time to go to Eton.

But Peter does not keep that promise; he forgets it instantaneously after their arrival at Neverland, also forgetting that James never wanted to become a Lost Boy. James followed him to Neverland as a visitor; now he’s trapped following the whims of a scatterbrained boy who turns out to be a dictator.

When James breaks Peter’s greatest rule and begins to grow up, he runs away to the pirate ship Spanish Main, where he’s received as captain without question. The Main was always his dream, one Peter somehow brought to Neverland.

The sweeping novel chronicles James’ struggle to adapt as pirate captain in a place he’s beginning to hate, because it belongs to Peter; everything works at Peter’s whim, including the weather. Neverdays seem to last a lifetime, and there are so many scenes which broke my heart; in the end we find the soul of a person we grew up seeing as villain.

Fans of Peter Pan, misunderstood characters, and book spin-offs will enjoy Never Never. It’ll make you angry, it’ll have you tearing up; most of all, you’ll sympathize with someone you despised as a child.

Things are not always what they seem. By the end of Never Never you’ll probably hate the Pan, too.

%d bloggers like this: