Sarah McCoy (with humility and research, both spelled out in her endnotes) invites us back to Avonlea, to imagine a different girl's story, one of wrenching loss, abolitionist work, and romantic discord ... The novel is an imaginative gift to fans of the [Anne Shirley], with nothing outlandish to alienate those who loved them. Should readers quibble with each other over whether the characters created by Montgomery match those by McCoy, I suspect they would enjoy a lively book-club chat...
Echoes of the 'Anne' books include references to old rivalries and friendships, but newcomers won't feel lost. The setting comes alive with every delicious meal, death-defying sickness, and richly described landscapes that would do Montgomery proud. There are some missteps as the author tries to present the Cuthberts as accepting of non-white people, but the enlightenment of the title character at the cost of fully realized secondary characters of color mars that aim. However, the interracial relationship featured in later chapters does feel authentic the plot development ... The bittersweet romance and family drama will engage fans of Green Gables and enchant historical fiction readers.
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. Hard-core fans might not agree with all of McCoy’s creative choices, but they will appreciate the way she reexamines characters they thought they knew so well.
In fleshing out Marilla’s story, McCoy weaves in fascinating historical details of Canada’s religious and political tensions of the mid-19th century as well as the devastating legacy of slavery and an interesting contemplation of what might happen to survivors of the Underground Railroad once they hit Canada in the dangerous days before the American Civil War. As is often the question when reframing beloved fictional characters: Does it feel true? Readers will have to decide for themselves, but fashioning Marilla as a flawed hero of her times is a lovely tribute.