Meet Marilla Cuthbert, Before Anne Shirley | Review: Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

7:00 AM

I love Anne of Green Gables and I've always been fascinated by the characters that are woven into the series. In particular, I've always longed to know more about Anne's guardian, Marilla, and what happened in the time before Anne Shirley came to Green Gables. It should come as no shock to anyone that I *needed* to read Marilla of Green Gables.

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 has 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.

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Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
Rating: ★★★★☆
As always, a copy of this book was provided by the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review. This does not effect my opinion in any way.

“I have a voice just as much as you do. It’s a choice we make every minute. What truths are important enough to say aloud and what ones are important just to know. That’s the power. You’ve got to be discerning. You can change your mind any time you want, but you can’t take your words back. Not ever.” 

What was that? Sorry, I can't hear you over how much I adore Marilla Cuthbert. Truly. Now, more than ever. Like so many readers: I've found myself drifting, even as an adult, into one thought. "Take me back to Green Gables.

Fortunately for us, Sarah McCoy heard us  and expanded upon the origins of Green Gables and of course, Marilla Cuthbert. The first thing you should know is that, yes, McCoy does do the story justice. The second thing to note is that this is a must-read for any fan of the beloved series. Even if you are skeptical, I found this to be a very heartfelt and fulfilling story that will surely tug at your heartstrings and make you feel.

There's something about prequels, sequels or retellings that can be tricky. You want so badly for the author to maintain the original stories essence, but you also want to see it develop into its own self. So, you approach it with skepticism. Hesitantly excited. This is how I approached Marilla of Green Gables--I was unfamiliar with Sarah McCoy's other works, so I kind of went into this blindly, but dang, I was blown away by everything about it.

Historical fiction, too, is tough to write under, but once again the author does so with grace. McCoy's prose works wonderfully with the setting and characters--painting not only Green Gables as it was being built, but Avonlea, and a clearer image of both Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert in their youth. Marilla of Green Gables is an emotional read and really impressed me. 

I cannot stress how lovely and wonderful it was to see Marilla in her girlhood. It builds her character just a bit more. It shapes her even further. Seeing her as she was is a treat, nostalgic and at times a bit heartbreaking. I know a lot of people will see Marilla Cuthbert, the adult, and latch onto this idea of her--believe me, you can see who she becomes if you read closely between the lines, but this Marilla is undeniably in the midst of her youth and therefore she isn't wholly the Marilla we come to know through the eyes of Anne Shirley--and that's okay. 

I do think, however, that a great many Anne of Green Gables fans will find themselves just as smitten with Marilla of Green Gables as they dare hope. This was such an engrossing, sweet, and emotional read that takes me back to my childhood, with new eyes. 

And so we return to a familiar place, with familiar characters, and it's nothing short of beautiful. Sarah McCoy's written is gorgeous, thoughtful, lively and exactly what this story needed. I loved Marilla of Green Gables. It was the perfect read for the start of autumn--and I can't sing its praises enough. 

About the Author 

Sarah McCoy is the New York TimesUSA Today, and internationally bestselling author of the novels The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award nominee; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. She has taught English and writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports surgeon, and their dog, Gilbert, in North Carolina.
Sarah enjoys connecting with her readers on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page, on Instagram at @sarahmmccoy, or via her website,

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