Emily Finally Gets Her Due

From the outset, let me say: EMILY was always *MY* book.

One thing a proudly Canadian grandparent ensured was, we kids (at least the girls) were introduced to L. M. Montgomery as few of my American counterparts could claim. Other girls hear of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and read it and are suitably charmed or whatever, but growing up we girls were pretty much FLOGGED with all things LMM. My Favorite Older Sister, when the time was right, was gifted the entire ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series in hardback. When my turn came around, Grandma and/or Aunt Mary (her sister) gave me the “EMILY” books, so Emily Starr became my first introduction to Lucy Maud. Amusingly, I ended up not reading any of the ANNE books until I was in my 20s. I was living with Aunt Mary up in Canada for several months (I was bored to tears much of the time while she was recuperating from a broken hip at the age of 80-something), and read pretty much every book and magazine poor Aunt Mary owned. My first impression was: Anne was a TOTAL RIP OFF of Emily.

It’s actually the other way ‘round, of course; ANNE predates EMILY, and easily outstrips her fellow spunky orphan when it comes to name recognition. One reason why I probably did not read any of the ANNE books was due to my annoyance when I mentioned LMM and people immediately jumped to ANNE. And then I would say, “No, I’m reading EMILY” and almost invariably the response would be “Huh?” Everyone had at least HEARD of Anne, but NO ONE HAD EVER HEARD OF EMILY. So the Emily series became “my” books, and growing up I never met another kid who had read them, or at least admitted to reading them.

In addition to being what I thought of as a rip off of Emily, Anne was only “okay” to me. I have said this before, many times, but I found Anne impossibly cloying, and her going on and on for page after page about fairy queens and elves and silly extravagant names for common items—while it did not actually happen, I can imagine Anne referring to a roadside ditch as The Magical Toad Kingdom Of Wonder Lane, for example—was off-putting to my taste. I immediately bonded to Marilla, her gruff-but-grudgingly-loveable adoptive parent, who, when asked what SHE thought of Anne’s incessant rambling, could always be counted on to say something sensible like “I think you should SHUT UP.” Or words to that effect; they were more subtle and flowery about such things a hundred years ago.

Emily, on the other hand—man, just her riffraff friends alone set her apart. Anne was all into the church picnic crowd, whereas Emily managed to find three kids to befriend with even WORSE parental figures than Emily—a destitute turn-of-the-century orphan farmed out to childless country relatives—could manage for herself. The kids themselves are okay, but their parents are totally effed up, man. I was only ten or so, and coming from an extremely sheltered, extremely privileged suburban middle class upbringing, so a lot of things went over my head, but I *DO* very specifically recall, when Teddy (for example) told Emily that his mother routinely poisoned his pets to ensure that he would never love anything on earth more than her, my ten-year-old never-once-traumatized brain hitched at the revelation and thought, “Well, THAT’s not right.”

Another friend had her mother run off on the family to join some sailor; her father decided the best way to cope with this rejection was to neglect her child (and his), so the poor thing basically grew up feral, at least by 19th century Canadian standards. The third friend was a hired boy, so eh, he doesn't even count. I don't think he had parents, but he had an "Aunt Tom" who took care of him somewhere in the slums. Anne Shirley's folks were always concerned with suitable playmates, but Emily's were all like, "Eh, whatevs." Which, again, the kids were all FINE despite the obvious difficulties in their lives, but the casual mentions of their parents reveals abuse and neglect nothing short of horrifying. There are hints of Anne being abused in the foster system she went through, but by the time we meet Emily it's all just an out-and-out NIGHTMARE.

I bring up EMILY OF NEW MOON, of course, because it figures, oddly enough, in the hit series RUSSIAN DOLL that is making the rounds lately. We just got through watching it all last night. Much of the series depicts a lifestyle that I would not voluntarily choose, myself, but we are all free to pursue happiness as we see fit. But the instant EMILY was mentioned I perked up, because, like I said, Emily was MY book and my mother was the only other person in the world I had ever met who had read it. I can see Emily and her friends and their screwed up perspective of parental issues mirrored (see what I did there?) in the somewhat messed up younger folks of RUSSIAN DOLL trying to navigate the maze of mental health. But one thing rang totally, TOTALLY false. At one point the main character, Nadia, brings up EMILY OF NEW MOON (and Mojo’s little heart went SCHWING) and her young male friend, Alan, exclaimed “Oh, I LOVED that book!”

Whereupon I turned to the Favorite Husband and added, “…said no male of the species, EVAAR.”

EMILY OF NEW MOON, compared to its MUCH-more-famous cousin, is a relatively obscure book. And, quite decidedly, a GIRL’s book. An obscure CANADIAN girl’s book. ANNE is universally beloved, but unless you have some rabid proud-to-be-Canadian in the family (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you *probably* haven’t read the Emily books. Even in my own family, I don’t think my Favorite Older Sister did. My Favorite Younger Sister might have (STAY OUT OF MY STUFF!), but the only person I have ever discussed it with was my Mom, whose own mother was Said Proud Canadian, so, um, it's not like she had much of a choice in the matter. They are okay books; I have fond enough memories of them. By all means, read and enjoy them. Perhaps I will again, now that my memory is jogged.

So time-looping and multiverse and even weird druggy bed-hopping party scene in NYC? Okay, Mojo can accept all that. But an American boy (or a man) reading EMILY OF NEW MOON sometime in the past twenty or thirty years? And then exclaiming how much he liked it?

Pffft. Never happened.