I still randomly subscribe to book boxes when I have a little spare cash (it’s an addiction). They pretty consistently send books I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on my own, and sometimes they even end up being books that I enjoy. I wasn’t too sure about Ana since the synopsis said that it was a book in “the tradition of Anne of Green Gables.” Sometimes there are books in your life that you are so emotionally bound to that you know it’s kind of unreasonable, but there you are. AGG is of those books for me, and I have seen other interpretations of it that do that wonderful story and its perfect characters a huge disservice. So I was nervous about Ana.
And in the end though – I was pleasantly surprised, as this story ended up being a 4* read for me.
Ana is set in modern-day California. Ana is an orphan being shuttled around the foster care system who is just about out of options. At 15, Ana is one of those people who wants to get things right, but never can quite seem to. Horrified at the prospect of returning to a group home, Ana accepts an opportunity to live an work on a farm.
Abbie and Emmett, brother and sister, have run their family farm together for years. Abbie is convinced that having a younger person around the farm will help with the work and with the overall spirit of the place, which is a little down since Emmett’s wife left him the year before. However, she neglects to tell Emmett that the orphan heading their way is actually a girl. Prejudiced against Ana when she arrives, Emmett says that she is on a month trial.
There were a lot of things to like about this book. First off, if you’ve never read Anne of Green Gables (I hope that isn’t true), it would have no impact on the reading of this story, which is completely its own thing (in a good way). But if you HAVE read the classic, it was fun to see where Teran had borrowed concepts and given them her own twist without getting out of hand. For instance, having Abbie be the one who immediately loves Ana and wants her to stay while Emmett is the grumpy one, felt natural and fun. The whole thing where Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk had its own updated version here that still felt believable and moved the story forward.
Ana herself was a very sympathetic character. Struggling to do the right thing but so often accidentally making the wrong choice, there were also a lot of moments where she did do the right thing, but the prejudices against her painted the incidents in a bad light. It was a good reminder that the people around us frequently are struggling with things of which we are unaware, and being slow to judge is a good thing.
Overall, I felt like Teran did a decent job modernizing this story. Some aspects of Ana’s past are much darker than Anne’s, but for the most part it was handled pretty deftly. I appreciated a YA story that didn’t revolve around sex, too.
Places where this book really falls down as an AGG parallel are with some of the other characters. Diana’s replacement, Rye, was incredibly annoying – she spent all of her time whining about how she hated her small-town life, being jealous of the fact that Ana lived in LA (hello?? She’s a penniless orphan?? While you have two incredibly loving and supportive parents?!), refusing to forgive her ex-best friend despite repeated apologies for what he did, and lying about Ana not once, but TWICE to get herself out of trouble! Rye’s character really brought down the overall tone of the book for me, even setting aside the fact that she is nothing like the sweet, kind, innocent Diana from the original – on her own, Rye is still obnoxious.
There were other places where the story stuttered. Sometimes, the third person narration would give me some background on characters and situations that Ana still didn’t know about, or would jump to what another person (usually Abbie) was thinking/feeling. This was a little confusing and distracted from the flow of the story. Also connected, although a bit of a personal preference, but having two main characters whose names start with the same letter is always a little confusing to me, I think because I’m a very fast reader. Sometimes I would have to go back to the beginning of the paragraph to remind myself if these feelings belonged to Abbie or Ana.
It also felt like some things were just kind of skimmed over, so I still had a lot of questions about some of the different characters. I really thought this book could have been longer and more fleshed out.
With my midwestern farming mindset, I couldn’t quite get my head around the farm where Ana was living. Is this really what farms look like in northern California? Just like… tons of random crops all going at the same time, all of which have to be hand-picked (we tend towards acres and acres of one crop around here)? I also wasn’t convinced that Abbie, on her own, was somehow doing all of this cooking/food preservation, especially in her home kitchen. But, you know, maybe they do things differently in California…
I wanted this book to last a little longer, because the ending felt somewhat rushed. It’s no shock to the reader that Ana is going to stay with Abbie and Emmett as her forever home, so it would have been nice to spend a little more time with that part of the story. I would totally read a sequel to this story.
One of the things about AGG that I love is the sense of hope throughout the story. While Anne has some dark times, she is always optimistic and working to become a better person. Throughout the story, Anne never really gives into despair, although she may have reason to, and although there are some characters that are easier to dislike, there isn’t anyone truly mean-spirited or evil. Some adaptations of AGG that I have seen/read fail to capture that spirit, turning the story into something much darker and more depressing in tone (I’m looking at you, Anne With an E). All that to say, I think that the real reason that I enjoyed Ana of California was that Teran stuck with the vibe of the original, allowing Ana to come through the dark times of her life a stronger, better person, still looking for the good in other people, still willing to trust, still trying to be open and accepting, despite the betrayals of her past.
Ana stands on its own as an enjoyable story, but even more rare, I felt that it did give homage to the spirit of Anne of Green Gables as well.