Goodreads: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Rebecca Randall arrives to live with her aunts Miranda and Jane in Riverboro, expecting that they will “be the making of her”. Someone, after all, needs to gain an education so that her mother can lift the mortgage from their farm and raise the six other children. But Aunt Miranda is severe and strict, and completely unready to cope with the imaginative child who has just landed on her doorstep. Can Rebecca bring light and life back to the Riverboro house?
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is a charming, lighthearted read featuring a protagonist with a spirit akin to Anne Shirley’s. With a glib tongue, a soaring imagination, and a warm heart, Rebecca Randall seems destined to win the love of everyone she meets. And, indeed, within a short time she does exactly that–only stern Aunt Miranda seems immune to her niece’s charms. Perhaps the most utterly winning thing about Rebecca, however, is not what she does right, but what she does wrong. Though she has good intentions, Rebecca lives in a world of her own and that means doing things of which adults will not always approve. And those things are precisely the thing of which a good story is made.
Rebecca, in fact, would be perilously close to becoming a Mary Sue if her many accidents and misunderstandings did not save her from such a fate. From the beginning Wiggin informs her readers that she has created no ordinary child. No, this girl possesses eyes that promise things–infinite joy and delight and imagination. She lives life to the fullest and gains the goodwill of just about everyone she meets. Without even trying, she always manages to be at the center of things, the leader, the girl the others girls wish they could be, even if she is not pretty. (But, of course, she is better than pretty. Her poor friend Emma Jane may have a nice mouth, but that girl never said anything worth hearing!) One starts to feel a bit sorry for the other girls, and especially for Emma Jane, whose constancy and friendship is supposedly valued by Rebecca but, one begins to suspect, not by Wiggin. In this world, intellect and imagination seem more highly ranked.
So it is that Rebecca’s mistakes provide a welcome reprieve from the long list of her charms. Wiggin specifically notes that Rebecca has faults. She lacks, for example, patience and old-fashioned common sense. Readers do get to see this–Aunt Miranda loves to list the things her niece has done wrong, from leaving the door ajar to going up the front stairs. But it is more interesting to see the scrapes that come from Rebecca’s heedlessness, whether that means seeing her sell soap door-to-door or watching her ruin her dress. Rebecca’s actions, even when they stem from good intentions or are simply accidents, always have consequences, and that makes them seem worthwhile. Everything she does is significant and will form her; everything she does helps her to become a young woman who can help her family or one who might fail them. This really is the story of her life, not a collection of random episodes.
And, despite the emphasis on intellect and imagination, Wiggin is aware of this. The narrator often takes time from the story to comment on it, perhaps noting Aunt Miranda’s spiritual state or commenting on Rebecca’s development. It really is important that Rebecca be good and kind and caring and responsible, even if her acquaintances seem to delight more in her flights of fancy than in her nobility of spirit. Some might find the book a tad “preachy”, but the narrator never really interrupts the flow of the narrative.
Some childhood books do not hold up when reread in later years. Though I think now that Rebecca is close to verging on the annoying with her special looks and her special air, I still can delight in this simple story of her girlhood and I am grateful that she allowed me to go with her on her adventures.