Title: Before Green Gables.
Author: Budge Wilson.
Genre: Fiction, prequels, YA, children's lit.
Publication Date: 2008.
Summary: An authorized prequel to Anne of Green Gables series. Anne Shirley has a difficult early life. Born to kind and loving parents, she is tragically orphaned as a baby, and is soon sent from one foster home to the next, caring for other people's children even as a child herself, and escaping from her dark reality through the power of her vivid imagination. Curious, inventive, and outspoken, Anne battles to make a life for herself by searching out kindred spirits, finding solace in her books, and dreaming of the day she has a family of her own.
My rating: 7/10.
My Review: This book had a really rough start for me, because in the first 20 pages the author managed to bring up both sex and periods in character conversations, which is completely inappropriate for 1900s or Montgomery, and was very jarring. Characters were talking to each other like a couple of teens today would, and I was ready to write this book off as yet another crappy sequel to a classic title. But it evened out. Though Budge doesn't possess the talent that Montgomery does, it is undeniable that she knows and loves Anne, and she does have a similar gift for sentimental writing, as well as a gift for redeeming even seemingly irredeemable characters (one of my favourite things about Montgomery is her faith in human beings). Anne's story catches you up in it - I raced Anne to the end of the novel, even all the meanwhile feeling it wasn't quite Anne. I enjoyed all the connections Budge made to the little that's referenced about Anne's childhood in the original novels - how she's got such a wonderful vocabulary, where she has picked up her passion for words and teaching, exactly how she had learned how to cure croup, how she had come by the few possessions she treasures, etc. It's fun how Budge often manages to create believable childhood experiences that then shine through during all of Anne's life. It's not an easy novel to read, especially for a young adult title, because it deals with addiction, abuse, and death a whole lot, but I admire Budge for not skirting these subjects. Aside from the realism they bring to the story and the reality of poor farmer families during the turn of the century (Budge is astute in highlighting how these problems often stemmed from socio-economic factors along with a lack of ability to regulate the number of children a family ends up with, rather than people being bad people), it explains Anne's unbreakable spirit and love for life, which one always imagines can only arise from persevering through real hardship. It is not a necessary book, and many Anne fans will find it lacking, if for no other reason than nothing can quite stand up to the rich world of the original Anne, but it's a charming prequel that doesn't ruin the universe or leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth (which is rare), and I don't regret reading it.
♥ "It's terrible unfair, and I hate myself for it, but your anger got to go somewhere. Some people get awful stomach pains and headaches. I get just plain mean."
♥ Joanna didn't know how she knew it, but she was certain that Anne was going to be able to stand up to whatever life threw at her. What was the word she was looking for? Prevail. That was the word. She was certain that this little person, this funny-looking little child, was going to prevail.
♥ Mrs. Thomas told her about that once, and about how beautiful her mother thought she was, even though Mrs. Thomas said she was the homeliest babu she ever saw — which wasn't a nice thing for her to say, even if it was true. Maybe she didn't want to lie, and Anne supposed that was understandable, but she could have tried just saying nothing.
♥ Joanna was only thirty-seven years old, but her own experience of life had hardened everything that had ever been soft and yielding. She's stuffed away her own dreams for so long that she hardly knew what dreams were made of.
♥ "She's only five years old, but I have this crazy feeling that she can see right through me. Like she knows what goes on inside. Like she understands how hard I struggle, and how bad I feel when I just can't make it. I know she hates the yellin' and the way I sometimes hit your mother. But I don't get the feelin' that she hates me."
♥ Once, after Mr. Thomas had been thundering around in the main house, telling at all of them to stop the noise, and then slapping Mrs. Thomas when she told him that he was the noisiest of all, and then throwing Trudy's schoolbooks at the wall, one after the other, yelling, "Oh, you think you're so much smartest than the rest of us!" he'd then charged out of the door and pushed himself into the barn, slamming the barn door behind him. Anne had watched all this from a corner of the room, making herself as small as possible. The three boys were crying, shrieking, and Trudy was sobbing out loud as she picked up her schoolbooks, one by one. Anne had slipped out the back door so that she could escape from all that sorrow.
Then, suddenly she'd heard strange noises coming from the barn — a thumping, and a kind of moaning sound. She moved around to the side of the barn that had the missing board, squatted down on the grass, and listened. She also watched, because someone had kicked aside the loose board — Horace, probably — and now you could actually see into the barn. To Anne's astonishment, what she saw was Mr. Thomas hitting one of the milking stools with his fist — over and over again. And crying. Mr. Thomas was actually crying. Every once in a while, he'd stop pounding the stool, and would lean the side of his face against the cow's big belly, saying "Ohhh! Ohhh!" in a terrible moan.
Anne was four years old at the time. She couldn't have put into words what she felt or thought as she watched this scene. But she at least understood that he was hurting. Somehow or other, doing his bad things hurt him. This was too complicated a thought to disentangle, but she stored it away in her small head to think about later. But she did know this: her feelings about Mr. Thomas had changed. Why, or in what way, she wasn't sure. But her mind slid away from the idea of hating him. Something was different.
♥ In a week's time, she would go off into the nearby woods all by herself, and scream and cry so loudly and for so long that she scared the birds away, and the grass at her feet moved as though a wind was blowing. But on this day, when the news of Eliza's going was new, she felt like someone who had suddenly gone blind. There was no colour or shape to anything, and no way to know where she was going ot how to get there.
♥ Mr. Thomas looked hard at Anne, and did some thinking. There, beside him, was this odd-looking child — freckly and skinny — sitting so calmly in the big rocking chair, feeding his small, scrawny baby. She appeared to be serene and content in the middle of all the crying and banging and shouting. And here he was, a big, handsome man — the father of seven children, a husband, a railway employee — wishing he could more more like her.
♥ "But you said something about fairies. Do you believe there are fairies too? And are angels real?"
The Egg Man produced a rumby laugh behind his bushy beard. "Well," he said, "it depends on what you mean by real. Maybe they're real and maybe they're not. But if people apply their imaginations to them, they can become very real inside our heads, and surely that's a valid kind of reality."
♥ "Imagination. Imagining things. It's one of the most important qualities that human beings possess."
♥ "He's very tall and also handsome, but he's mean and also dumb, so today I learned that being beautiful isn't everything. I'm sure I knew that before, and I guess I'll forget it again, but today I possessed the thought."
♥ "It's not like the poems in the Royal Readers," said Anne slowly.
"The readers are full of stories about dying. Dying children. Dying dogs. Dying sailors. The writers are in love with shipwrecks and terrible disasters. And they make it sound very tragic... but also... wonderful. I don't know how they do it. Or why they do it. They don't talk about being an unwanted orphan, or having red hair, or not being able to go to school, or not knowing where you're going to live after the man gets killed by a train. They make death sound beautiful, just because the lines rhyme and the poet puts his words together right. But it's not really like that. What's so beautiful about being put in a box and sent to Bolingbroke? And what will happen to Blackbird and the white charger and to our cow? How do we pack when we don't even know where we're going? And Lochinvar? Will he come with us? Will be be all right? Oh, Mrs. Thomas. I feel like I want to be one of those sailors in the poem — swept off the boat into the raging ocean — to die forevermore."