What they're about: kindred spirits, love, bosom friends, imagination, simple joys, loss, life's little adventures, scrapes (the predicament kind), humor, stubbornness, love's softening nature, orphans, building “castles in the sky” and how sometimes our dreams change and are fulfilled in ways we didn't expect. They are about changing your expectations about your life, being willing and open enough to other people that you are able to change your expectations about them as well. They are about growing up, becoming more somber, but maintaining the dancing laughter behind your eyes...and sometimes still dancing and frolicking when you are by yourself or with kindred spirits.
We first meet Anne (spelled with an “e” because it's not as plain that way) as an unloved, skinny, poorly dressed orphan who can talk a mile a minute, has an imagination to be proud of, and eyes filled with the stars. The old bachelor, Matthew, and his bachelorette sister, Marilla, sent for a little boy, not a little girl but as they slowly come to realize, perhaps it was Providence which interfered to cause this “mistake.” Their busybody, sharp-tongued, kindhearted neighbor, Rachel, would probably say it was foreordained.
So Anne, after having been mistreated, unloved, and just not really having been “brought up” in her earliest years, finds herself in a home which slowly fills with love. Matthew, so shy he is virtually a recluse, is surprised to find he is almost immediately fond of this little chatty creature of an Anne and Anne finds in him, though they are seemingly so different, a “kindred spirit,” a sympathetic listener, and some of the love her heart has so long been neglected. Marilla is all hardness and sharp edges and is, at first, appalled at Anne's almost heathen ways and is almost ashamed at the mirth she experiences because of Anne's impulsive ways; but over time, through softening and development of her sense of humor, Anne finds in Marilla another loyal heart.
Before moving to her new home, Green Gables, Anne has only had a little “mirror girl” and “echo girl” as friends (aka imaginary), though she has always longed for a “bosom friend.” Upon meeting her neighbor, Diana, whose looks personify how Anne herself longs to look, Anne soon has them swear to undying friendship, an oath they keep throughout their lives despite obstacles being put in their way. Diana is a raven-haired, dimply girl, who is sweet as can be and who, though she lacks much imagination, is glad to return Anne's wholehearted love.
And then there's Gilbert, who though he's a handsome, sweet-hearted lad, enjoys teasing the girls. On his first day of meeting Anne, he manages to utter a teasing word which earns him enmity for years to come, despite his wanting to make it up and to be friends.
I suppose I am just covering the first book after all or maybe just introducing the characters. The most important thing to keep in mind is, if you like the first one, don't forget there are more! I believe there are very few series in which the following books are as good as the first, and this is one of those rare series. I deeply enjoy the first one and I deeply enjoy all the others as well. One critic said that the series feels very much like a serial, there are only a few loose threads which run between books, and it feels like there are not many overarching themes, but I have never felt this way. In each book we are introduced to new characters, some old major characters do not play as big a role, and Anne lives in a different place in almost every book...but that is how my life is, I drift from place to place and, except for a central core, the main characters in my life change; maybe that's one reason I so like the series.
Yet another critique some may bring against the series, and I have vaguely thought it myself on occasion, is that there are too many happy coincidences and too much good luck on Anne's part, both in her relationships and circumstances, but to think that is to not learn one of the series' greatest lessons; that hard work, whether it be in life or in relationships, pays off. Anne finds along her way more kind hearts and “kindred spirits” than she originally thought she would, but this is largely because she believes the best of people and works hard to draw their best out, even when it is buried under pain, grumpiness, contrariness, or sorrow. Also, opportunities come her way because she has “gumption” and works very hard for them. Beyond all this, there is perhaps the feeling that God or Providence does guide some things in our life, sometimes he does cause blessings to come our way and wonderful people to cross our paths, especially if we are on the lookout for those blessings and greet them with wonder-filled eyes and open hearts.
This series, more than any other, makes me often tear up with “happy tears,” each book is achingly sweet, though without being cheesy. Also, Anne's and her friends scrapes often make you smile. So if you are a young lady, a woman young at heart, or “of the race of Joseph” (a sensitive soul who loves to dream and cherish books as old friends), I encourage you to read not only the first in this series, but all of them. I think you will far from regret it and will make some new friends.
P.S. These books were first read aloud to me and my older sisters by my mother and aunt. I think reading aloud, even after children begin to read for themselves, is a wonderful idea. Among other reasons, it allows children to ask questions about any of the issues being dealt with (loss, neglect, adoption, preconceived notions, etc.). Also, I just think it is a wonderful bonding opportunity, something to do as the kids settle down for sleep...and may even help them unwind from this over stimulating world that we now live in.
I would rate this series G maybe verging on PG. The PG would be because some of them deal with loss and death. Also, though Anne does not directly speak it, she hints at having been hit by one of the men (an alcoholic) who was the father in one of her earliest “homes.”