Author: L. M. Montgomery
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Originally published: 1923
Book Source: personal collection
It's the end of January, and time for my first review for the YA Through the Decades Reading Challenge. It seemed only right to begin with a Canadian book I loved, back when I actually was a young adult.
Emily loves her home, her father, and all things beautiful. Most of all, she loves to write - stories, poems, and "descriptions" of all she encounters and experiences. It's a simple life, but rich in all the ways that matter.
Then her father dies, and everything changes.
Emily is sent to New Moon farm, to live with sweet Aunt Laura, odd Cousin Jimmy, and tyrannical Aunt Elizabeth. To her surprise, she soon comes to love her new home, despite her conviction that Elizabeth sees her as nothing more than a duty. She makes new friends (and enemies), has triumphs (and tragedies), and finds a new sense of self and belonging. And she discovers that even as her new life changes her, she changes the lives of those around her.
L. M. Montgomery's best known heroine will forever be Anne of Green Gables, but I've always liked Emily better. As a budding writer, I strongly identified with Emily's literary struggles. There was another reason she won my heart, however. Anne is a complex character, but she's transparent - her whole being is visible. Emily, with her fairy wallpaper (regular wallpaper transformed by a trick of the eyes), her flash (a periodic glimpse of a world beyond this one) and her uncanny perceptions, is intriguing and mysterious.
Structurally speaking, Emily of New Moon is a dramatic contrast to most contemporary books for kids and teens (with the possible exception of Diary of a Wimpy Kid). The novel reads more as a series of vignettes or connected incidents rather than as a singular quest. Nor does it begin with a bang and hit the ground running, the way books like The Maze Runner do. It's a quieter, more gradual sort of story, demanding a patient, devoted kind of reader. That said, Montgomery is a master of pacing, hinting at mysteries, creating questions in the reader's mind, and balancing emotionally wrenching scenes with quieter explorations of setting. Having read the entire series several times, I can identify and appreciate the groundwork, laid in book one, that becomes essential in volumes two and three (J. K. Rowling is a genius at this).
Rereading Emily of New Moon for this challenge, I was struck by another characteristic of the series, one that should serve as a cautionary tale for modern writers: frequent references to literature that is no longer taught in schools or readily available. How many contemporary teens (or adults) have heard of The Alhambra, much less read it? In the unlikely event that series like Gossip Girl are in print 100 years from now, how well will those ubiquitous references to Starbucks and Prada hold up? To be fair, I read Emily seven or eight times as a kid, so clearly it didn't bother me that much.
In conclusion, Montgomery deserves her status as a Canadian national treasure. No matter how old I get or how many other books I read, Emily of New Moon will always have a special place in my heart.
And now for the fun part of the reading challenge - discussion! Who's read Emily? In your minds, how does it compare to Anne? If you chose a different pre-1930s novel for January reading, you can still play - tell us about the book you picked.
Looking forward to your comments!