With her father dead, Emily Byrd Starr has been taken in by her mother’s people, Aunts Elizabeth and Laura, and Cousin Jimmy, whom she’s never met before. Aunt Elizabeth, however, seems very harsh. But as the days go by, Emily learns to love her home at New Moon and to make friends from the artistic Teddy Kent to the wild Ilse Burnley. And all the while she’s perfecting her craft of poetry as she prepares to be a writer.
Anne Shirley may be L. M. Montgomery’s most famous heroine, but Emily of New Moon possesses her own unique charms. Sensitive to beauty, possessed of a strong sense of justice, and endowed with the famed Murray pride, Emily bears some similarities to Anne but is ultimately her own character. Her adventures are not the misadventures of Anne but the typical ones of childhood–attempting to fit in at school, being subjected to the teacher’s sarcasm, visiting relatives, and having her first real fight with a friend. Montgomery transforms it all, making Emily’s pain and delight come to life in equal measure.
Of course, Montgomery also exhibits here her signature characterization, introducing the harsh and proud Aunt Elizabeth, the softer Aunt Laura, and the elfin Cousin Jimmy to round out Emily’s new home. The other characters are also described richly, until one feels that these individuals could be met in real life. Emily’s cruel, sarcastic teacher; the fiery Ilse Burnley and her neglectful father; the sharp-tongued Aunt Nancy, and more are drawn in detail and not spared from Montgomery’s keen eye (or Emily’s, when she writes about them).
Here also is Montgomery’s love of beauty and of nature. Emily has her enchanted haunts to roam, her imaginary friends to play with. She can envision trees as Adam and Eve, know the Wind Woman by name, and risk her life for a bouquet of flowers. And yet neither the book nor Emily ever feel sentimental. One simply accepts that life is indeed beautiful–and it’s impossible not to feel a bit privileged to be one of Montgomery’s readers, to have her share her vision with you.
Perhaps most interestingly is Emily’s aspiration to become a writer. Many of her experiences feel autobiographical, from her burning need to write despite opposition to her sorrow over finding her old stories aren’t so good after all. Her highs and lows prove absorbing material, and I can’t wait to follow her story through the next two books.
As always, Montgomery delivers a charming and magical story, yet one still grounded in the everyday realities of life and in the quirks and foibles of ordinary people. Her ability to make the ordinary so enchanted is a rare gift indeed.