I eagerly anticipated Before Green Gables, by Budge Wilson, and then I got busy around the time it came out and forgot all about it, so when I recently came across it on the shelves, I was so happy. I loved the Anne of Green Gables books by Lucy Maude Montgomery passionately as a child, and reread them all so many times that I know them front to back, especially the first two or three. But after having read this prequel, I'm not sure why it was written, aside from the desire to mark the 100-year anniversary of Anne.
I say that because in the case of people writing sequels or prequels or side stories (especially to other people's books), there needs to be a reason to do so--another perspective, a part of the story not told, a continuation that the author was unable or unwilling to pursue. For instance, The Wide Sargasso Sea tells the events of Jane Eyre from the mad wife's point of view. The Wind Done Gone tells the story of Gone With the Wind from the slaves' perspective, while Alexandra Ripley entertainingly continues Scarlet's story from the point at which GWTW ends (and though some critics panned it, I found it both engaging and entertaining) in Scarlet.
This book conscientiously and painstakingly searches out every mention made in the entire set of Green Gables books of Anne Shirley's past, and then attempts to faithfully recreate it--with almost no new information and, sadly, little flair. There were a very few characters here who were undocumented in the series, but even they seemed self-consciously positioned to explain every tiny detail of how Anne got to Prince Edward Island. The book seemed like an exercise in expanding something that could have stayed as it was--the shorthanded versions of events prior to Anne's adoption by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert penned by Montgomery were perfectly adequate, if that was the only reason to write this prequel, and in reading it, I discovered no other.
There were, as well, a few historical anomalies that would not have been included in Lucy Maud Montgomery's series (for instance, the discovery that breastfeeding gives immunity against disease was made well after the events of this series--and a person of this era would never have commented on that fact anyway! it would have been considered far too indelicate), and I felt the writing style, despite Wilson's attempts to make it similar, was too contemporary. There were some departures from "canon," too--for instance, Wilson makes a point of Anne's being able to cook a meal for a family of eight at age six, but in the first AofGG books, when the Sunday School picnic is in the offing, Anne is worried about the necessity of bringing a picnic basket, and says to Marilla, "I don't know how to cook." Hmmm.
It bothered me that the voice of Anne Shirley was similar throughout this volume to that of the main books--but those begin when she is 11 years old, and we first hear her voice in this book when she is little more than a toddler. Not enough allowance was made for the age difference; even an extremely bright and articulate child would not be using language at age three or four the way this book portrays Anne as doing. If the book were written as first-person reminiscence--Anne looking back and remembering--it could have worked, but it's not--it's written as an uneasy mix of first and third person that I found jarring.
Also, although this has been marketed as a YA book and Burbank Public Library stocks it in both the children's and young adult sections, I'm thinking that only adults on a nostalgia kick will read it.
So--not horrible, and for die-hard fans of Anne, perhaps still something they will want to read...but I stand by my disappointment. I am also surprised, because the author, Budge Wilson, has written 33 other books, many of which have won some rather prestigious awards.
Apparently the Japanese decided to capitalize on Wilson's publication of this 100th-anniversary tribute to the Anne of Green Gables franchise, and did something some might actually enjoy more--they made an anime out of it! It's called Kon'nichiwa Anne! and there she is, in all her carrot-topped glory.