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A November 2018 Indie Next Pick
A bold, heartfelt tale of life at Green Gables…before Anne: A marvelously entertaining and moving historical novel, set in rural Prince Edward Island in the nineteenth century, that imagines the young life of spinster Marilla Cuthbert, and the choices that will open her life to the possibility of heartbreak—and unimaginable greatness.
Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.
In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world.
Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables.
―USA TODAY New & Noteworthy Book Pick
―November 2018 Indie Next Pick
―Woman’s World Magazine Book Club Pick
―New York Post Best Book Pick
―BOOKBUB, Best Historical Fiction of Fall 2018
―Library Journal Fall 2018 Editors’ Pick
“A must read for fans of Anne and historical fiction alike.”
―POPSUGAR, Best New Books of Fall 2018
“Anne of Green Gables’ Marilla Cuthbert’s back story written by kindred spirit…”
―The Toronto Star
“[A] winning prequel…”
“Luscious enough to melt in the mouth. Moreover, McCoy’s Marilla is more in tune with modern sentiments about race, class, and social equality than the Anne books now are. This loving homage and poignant reinvention should be welcomed into the canon by long-time fans and powerful enough to draw new readers into the timeless and cherished stories of Anne and Avonlea.”
―Historical Novel Society
“Marilla of Green Gables is a wonderfully entertaining and charming novel that will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library collections…”
―The Midwest Book Review
“Marilla Of Green Gables answers questions about L.M. Montgomery’s most elusive character.”
“Something magical happens when L.M. Montgomery–obsessed readers get together. We cannot help ourselves. Our secret handshake does not involve intricate gestures, but instead a deeply embedded linguistic code that differentiates a true devotee from someone who is just dabbling in Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables world. U.S. writer Sarah McCoy is a true devotee. Her new historical novel, Marilla of Green Gables is a beautiful read and is true to the character of Marilla Cuthbert.”
―Quill & Quire
“Sarah McCoy doesn’t disappoint fans of ‘Anne with an E’ in this Green Gables prequel. She’s spot on with the language, setting and sensibilities of her characters. Bravo!”
—Trish Brown, One More Page Books, Arlington VA
“Marilla of Green Gables is the addition to the Anne cannon you didn’t even know you needed. This beautiful book explores a much-beloved character’s backstory in an effortless and moving way. It’s packed full of nuggets that Anne Fans will recognize and love and is an ode to women everywhere who live unconventional lives.”
—Lindsay Crist Lawson, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati OH
“I love a well-executed great idea! Sarah McCoy has written a wonderful back story for the formidable but loving caretaker of Green Gables – Marilla Cuthbert. The novel covers the developing then faltering relationship between her and young John Blythe (Gilbert’s father), her friendship with Rachel Lynde, Matthew’s reticence around women, Marilla’s political points-of-view and her social awakening. Here we get to know and love the Marilla and Matthew who eventually welcome Anne Shirley into their lives. Anne of Green Gables fans will find much to enjoy.”
—Shirley Freeman, Bookbug, Kalamazoo MI
“Great for lovers of Anne who need more Avonlea in their lives. This book was very well done in the style of L.M. Montgomery that I had to remind myself that it wasn’t actually written by her and wasn’t *actually* Marilla’s backstory. Felt like there was one part of the story that was inconsistent with who Marilla is as an adult, however. But I enjoyed it because I love Anne of Green Gables.”
—Alison Frenzel, Fabled Bookshop and Café, Waco TX
“In Marilla of Green Gables, Sarah McCoy brings literary history to life with exquisite detail that immediately transports readers to Prince Edward Island and the Green Gables of their childhood. Watching Marilla navigate life after the sudden loss of her mother is anything but ordinary as she eschews tradition and braves life beyond Green Gables to find her own destiny in an ever-changing world. Fans of the original series and those entering this landscape for the first time will be captivated by the complicated family dynamics, timeless friendships, budding romance, and pivotal moments in history that shaped this iconic character.”
—Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem NC
“Prepare to meet Marilla, a captivating heroine who will transport you back to the treasured world of Anne of Green Gables. Rich in historical detail, this charming novel vividly explores love, loss, friendship, and the coming-to-self of a girl on the cusp of womanhood.”
—Sue Monk Kidd, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees and Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 pick for The Invention of Wings
“L.M. Montgomery’s Marilla Cuthbert flares to life in Sarah McCoy’s enchanting novel of Avonlea. But this Marilla feels very much earned by McCoy, and her story, one of wrenching family sacrifice and the enduring pleasures of home, as much a love letter to the world of Green Gables as it is a breath of fresh air. Hats off to McCoy for enlivening this classic with such heart and grace.”
—Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin
“Fans of the Anne of Green Gables series will rejoice at this warm and heartfelt addition to their world. McCoy’s love for the characters is palpable, and with an insightful eye she illuminates the original Avonlea, while also offering glimpses into the turbulent history of the time.”
— Madeline Miller, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Circe and Orange Prize winner for The Song of Achilles
“Sarah McCoy has given readers a precious gift: the opportunity to step back into the world of Avonlea, and the chance to get to know Marilla Cuthbert as a leading lady in her own right. In McCoy’s skillful and sensitive hands, Marilla emerges as a heroine of depth, complexity, and heart. I savored my time with this cast of old friends, enjoying the dilemma of whether to speed through these compelling pages or to pause and relish everything about the lovely world imagined within them.”
— Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of Beauty in the Broken Places and Sisi
“A pitch perfect love letter to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Green Gables. Even if you weren’t an ardent fan, you’ll still want to read this book. Marilla is a loving, captivating fictional portrait of a woman and a time that is well worth escaping to. A beautiful, heart rending story, a wonderful novel.”
―M.J. Rose, New York Times bestselling author of Tiffany Blues
“Another girl once came of age at Green Gables. Spunky, smart, buffeted by tides of duty and ambition, loss and love, young Marilla finds her voice in Sarah McCoy’s beautiful rendering of a beloved place, a complex woman, and a long-ago time. Deftly and tenderly told, Marilla of Green Gables is a must read for anyone who adored Avonlea and Anne and ever wondered, what came before?”
—Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours
“Anne aficionados will get a kick out of seeing Avonlea’s eccentric cast in their youth… McCoy captures the magic of Prince Edward Island, describing the changing seasons in lovely prose… [fans] will appreciate the way she reexamines characters they thought they knew so well.”
“A rich, historically intense life for Marilla… McCoy weaves in fascinating historical details of Canada’s religious and political tensions of the mid-19th century… fashioning Marilla as a flawed hero of her times is a lovely tribute.”
The discussion questions are intended to enrich your reading group’s conversation about Marilla of Green Gables, the illuminating new novel from New York Times and international bestselling author Sarah McCoy. In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this novel―plot spoilers. If you have not finished reading Marilla of Green Gables, we respectfully suggest that you wait before reviewing this guide.
- Were you an Anne of Green Gables fan before reading Marilla of Green Gables? Had you ever considered what Marilla’s early years had been like? What were you most curious to learn about when you picked up Sarah McCoy’s imagining of Marilla’s life?
- Aunt Izzy tells Marilla, “It’s selfish of a person to take what’s given without knowing if it’s even what they want. For as long as I can remember, I had an urge for more. . . . I thought it only fair if I tried to fill that more-ness myself rather than expect someone else to fill it for me.” Do you agree? Do you think Aunt Izzy was successful in her quest to fill that “more-ness” herself? Was Marilla?
- How does her mother’s death transform Marilla? What do you think Marilla’s life would have been like had Clara or her baby survived?
- Prior to leaving Prince Edward Island, Marilla views Avonlea as the “most perfect place on Earth.” How do Marilla’s travels to Nova Scotia with the Ladies’ Aid Society shape her? What impact did leaving home have on Marilla’s sense of the world?
- Marilla’s father tells her that, “Young men get an itch to make their marks in the greater history. It’s hard for women to understand.” Why would he believe that? How do Marilla and the women of Avonlea prove him wrong?
- As the tensions between the Tories and Reformers grow and cause a deep rift between the people of Avonlea, Marilla speaks out at a town hall meeting where she states, “I reckon we can disagree about a great many things, but we must find a way to be peaceable. Tory or Reformer, we are Avonleaers first. We must choose compromise for the sake of our town and those in it.” Do these tensions parallel our current political climate? Do you agree with Marilla’s desire for compromise?
- When John presses Matthew about his political standing, Marilla becomes enraged with John for pushing his beliefs on the Cuthberts. Do you think Marilla should have handled this situation differently?
- Marilla’s pride and loyalty to her family prevented her from pursuing her relationship with John. Did she make the right decision? How do you think things would have unfolded had Marilla been able to set her pride aside?
- One hundred and ten years passed between the publication of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Sarah McCoy’s Marilla of Green Gables. Is Marilla a more modern take on life in Victorian times? How do our modern sensibilities affect the way we read about women’s lives in the 1800s?