Book Review: Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane

Synopsis: The teenage years of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who would later author the beloved Anne of Green Gables books, were filled with drama and adventure. This novel explores through fiction the friendships, family relationships, and travels of Maud as she pursues an identity as a writer in a time when women were rarely educated and the idea of a woman as a published author was typically regarded as absurd. It is not strictly a biography, and the author asserts that it is primarily historical fiction, but events and people from Montgomery’s actual life give this story enough veracity to form a realistic picture of her life.

Note: For clarification, throughout this review I will use ‘Montgomery’ when referring to the actual life of L. M. Montgomery, and ‘Maud’ when referring to the character in the book whenever it is necessary to distinguish between the two. 

I have been excited for this book from the moment I read the first line of its description. I loved Anne of Green Gables as a young girl, and in sixth and seventh grade Montgomery’s books were nearly all that I would read due to the lack of development in my school’s library. The school library was packed with vampire fiction, princess stories, and a few classics that I did not yet have the skills to adequately tackle and appreciate; it was lame even to those who enjoyed reading. However, the nearby public library had most of Montgomery’s books. Around this same time I discovered a box of books by Louisa May Alcott and Gene Stratton Porter that my Grandma had given my mom, and while I had been briefly introduced to Gene Stratton Porter before, I had not read many of these, and they too filled the void left by my school’s library. These authors became some of my favorites, and have remained so. The description of Maud on Goodreads mentions that Maud’s favorite author was Louisa May Alcott, which is a fact I did not previously know. If I needed any reason to read this book beyond the fact that it is about L.M. Montgomery’s teenage years, that tidbit hooked me completely.

Maud is broken up into sections equating to the major moves she makes while a teenager: from Prince Edward Island to Saskatchewan and back again. This is a coming of age story, so the sections also roughly align with the major events of her journey to maturity and personal identification. At the beginning Maud already knows that she wants to be a writer one day, but she is still in school and at this stage mostly writes overly dramatic fluff in her journal. She lives with her grandparents, who have raised her for most of her life in Cavendish on Prince Edward Island, and is about thirteen years old. Over the years included in the first section Maud gains confidence in her writing and speaking abilities, largely due to the influence of her teacher, Miss Gordon. Maud’s friendships are still shaped mainly by childish terms and ideals, but that begins to change as she experiences her “first love” and begins to learn what the town believes about her parents, especially her mother who died when Maud was very young.

In the following sections we witness Maud grow and her writing develop. Fishbane weaves a beautiful story of a young girl growing up in the late 1800’s, without sugarcoating the difficulties and maintaining relevance with readers today. Whether you enjoy L. M. Montgomery’s books or not, Maud is a fun story to read. Similar to James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the reader gets to watch Maud’s thinking and writing mature over a period of a few years. While the Fishbane’s process is much less dramatic than Joyce’s and takes place in a shorter amount of time, the overall effect is similar: the reader is not simply told that the protagonist is growing up, but instead experience it firsthand and witness the slow transformation from immature girl to confident and competent woman writer.

Fishbane’s writing in Maud is beautiful. I have heard it compared to Montgomery’s own (no surprise there), Laura Ingalls Wilder, and other 19th century writers. Fishbane’s thorough research has not only given her the knowledge and ability to write a plausible fictional account of a portion of Montgomery’s life, it also allowed her to tap the styles and particularities of writing descriptive of the era she is writing about. The prose flows easily, reads quickly, and sinks pleasantly into the reader’s mind.

Frankly, I could go on for much longer about how much I enjoyed this book, but to say much more would be superfluous. Maud has easily earned a place on my list of favorites because of its style, subject, the adept skill Fishbane uses to address period-specific situations, and overall pleasantness. Additionally, the cover is as beautiful as the prose and story it contains, which adds to the overall experience. This is a wonderful book by its own merit, but even more intensely if you know anything about L. M. Montgomery. This timely release will definitely also be a hit with fans of the Netflix show Anne with an E, though Maud is a much lighter story and more fitting for younger fans of Montgomery. I recommend it to anyone who has ever read Anne of Green Gables, enjoys 19th century fiction, or simply wants a good story, regardless of age.

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