Emily of New Moon.
When my pal Addie (also known as my Now and Then viewing buddy) and I were in middle school, we went through a major Montgomery phase. As bookish, creative girls ourselves, we related to Lucy Maud's bookish, creative heroines, and Prince Edward Island, Canada just sounded soooo romantic. And there were hot, sensitive love interests who appreciated independent women (Gilbert Blythe, what what?). We started with Anne of Green Gables and its seven sequels, then moved on to Jane of Lantern Hill and eventually, the Emily books.
Because it's my middle name (thanks, Wuthering Heights-loving Mom!), I've always had a soft spot for Emilys real and fictional. Not to stereotype, but most Emilys I've met may seem quiet at first, but have a hell of a strong will and artistic ability in spades. And Lucy Maud Montgomery's Emily Byrd Starr fits this to a T. (Well, maybe not the quiet part.)
Doing a Google Image search for this post, I found that Emily of New Moon was adapted into a television series that aired in Canada from 1998-2000. Apparently it was on in the U.S. too, on something called WAM. Cool! (If anyone wants to get me a Christmas present, I would lurve these DVD's!)
A basic plot summary: Emily Byrd Starr is eleven years old and living poor but happy with her single dad in backwater Canada. She loves her dad, her two cats, and writing, in that order. However, when her father's death leaves her alone and penniless, Emily is reluctantly taken in at New Moon Farm by her two aunts, Elizabeth and Laura Murray, the sisters of her mother Juliet, who died when Emily was tiny. Laura is sweet and understanding of Emily's many scrapes and outbursts, Elizabeth is of the "spare the rod and spoil the child" school. However, thanks to the encouragement of her slightly-unbalanced-but-lovable Uncle Jimmy, Emily starts to cultivate her writing talent, while speaking her mind, having adventures, and solving a mystery along the way.
Emily kind of rocks. When I was young I always wanted to be friends with Montgomery's characters. Sure, Ruby Gillis was kind of a ditz, but the rest of the girls were so smart, funny and most of all loyal (not easy to find in real life preteen girls). At a time when children were meant to be seen and not heard, Emily respected her elders but wasn't afraid to speak up when she saw injustice. Despite the ordeal of losing her father at age eleven, Emily has a pretty strong sense of self, not to mention real confidence in her writing (even when her spelling is not so great). She does make the mistake of trusting Rhoda, her school's chief Mean Girl, but she more than makes up for it by being a good friend to wild child Ilse (I distinctly remember that the Emily books were the first time I heard the name Ilse, and I loved it), budding painter Teddy (future hottie alert!), and earnest hired boy Perry. Basically, no matter how many times Emily stumbles, she scrambles right back to her feet and soldiers on.
There's really only one thing that bugs me about the Emily books. His name is Dean Priestly, and we're going to have a bit of a chat.
Hi Dean. I'd like you to meet a friend of mine:
Take a seat, Dean. Right over there.
Okay. I understand that this was a different era. That in the olden days, it wasn't seen as skin-crawl-inducing that a thirty-six-year-old man would take an interest in a barely thirteen-year-old girl. Even if you did save her life (and of course, I'm grateful to you for that), you bug me, dude. I'm sure sorry that you have a hunchback and you got made fun of so much that you turned to books for comfort. And yes, Emily's Uncle Jimmy is an older man who encourages her writing. But here's the difference between you and Uncle Jimmy, Dean:
Uncle Jimmy's not CREEPY. He doesn't send Emily big, fat letters (wrong choice of words, dude, wrong choice of words). In later books, he doesn't pressure her to marry him as soon as she's legal. And he doesn't almost succeed.
Dean, even in middle school you made me squeamish. Maybe Montgomery had an older-man-with-a-savior-complex fantasy, I don't know. Either way, I wish young Emily knew how to quit you. Because throughout the next two books, if I recall correctly, you just don't go away.
(Incidentally, Dean is not listed as a character in the Emily TV series. Hmmm.)
Anyway, other than Dickhead Dean (who doesn't appear until late in the book), Emily of New Moon is a sweet, fast read. I hope girls today still read Montgomery, because anyone who encourages imagination, loyalty, and inner strength in young women is A-OK with me.