I love a book with a rip-roaring plot but in these, my favorite books, there’s surprisingly little plot. In the beginning of the first volume, an orphan, Anne Shirley, is adopted by a lonely brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who live at Green Gables, a small Prince Edward Island farm. In the remaining chapters and volumes, Anne grows up; that’s all. There’s never a Voldemort to battle or a secret garden to find.
Anne’s relationship to her clever hazel-eyed suitor Gilbert Blythe, in its deepening incarnations from rival to school chum to spouse, gives a loose narrative shape to each of the first six volumes. But Montgomery stages the Anne–Gilbert dynamic so that it is both deeply stirring and completely secondary. The central pleasure of the novels come from Anne’s picaresque adventures as she meets people — sometimes kind people (Matthew Cuthbert), quite often curmudgeonly antisocial people (Old Mrs. Barry), almost always Canadian people, regularly sad and damaged people (Marilla Cuthbert) — and teaches them to see the world differently. All of these characters, in their ways, fall in love with Anne. She helps them discover that they are not bereft of hope or humor but rather are, in Anne’s iconic phrase, “kindred spirits.”
So rather than a single dramatic or romantic plotline, the novels’ many episodes work to reinforce, over and over again, the central lesson that healing human connection — which is to say, love — in many forms, is possible.