While I was investigating young adult and young reader choices for California, I stumbled across Ana of California by Andi Teran (2015), which is meant to be a modern take on Anne of Green Gables, the much loved classic book by Lucy Maud Montgomery from 1908. While the original took place in Canada, Ana of California (obviously) takes place in California–northern rural Humboldt County with flashbacks in Los Angeles–making it possible for me to review it here.
I’m reading my way across the USA, 3-5 (or more) books from each state, with an emphasis on books where the setting is really integral to the story, and where we learn something about the people, the history, and/or the geography of that state.
Right now I’m in California. (You can see my full list for California here–it’s considerably more than 3-5 books!) Anne of Green Gables is set on Prince Edward Island (PEI) in Canada, north of Nova Scotia, east of New Brunswick, and southwest of Newfoundland. The setting of a rural farming community on this isolated island is integral in its beauty and seasons, and its small town attitudes, and I feel like Andi Teran’s version picked up on that.
Overall, I’m not sure the book works all that well as an updated version of Anne of Green Gables (and I’ll talk about that in a bit), but it does work pretty well as part of my reading challenge. Because of Teran’s attention to landscape and small town attitudes, which were so important in the original, those were very much present in Ana of California–especially Anne’s/Ana’s wonder at the beauty of the place she found herself in and its contrast to what had been familiar to her in the past.
Sunlight zigzagged across the dashboard as the truck crept out of the density of the forest and coasted down the hill into a canyon dotted with pine trees. “Holy—” Ana exhaled. “This view is insane!” “Yep.” “Everything’s concrete where I come from. Strip malls, buildings, metal fences, that kind of thing. But this . . . this is unreal. Magnificent even.”
So… what’s different? What’s been updated? Obviously, Anne (with an E) has been changed to Ana (with a Spanish pronunciation: “It’s Ana, one n, like ‘fauna’—not Anna like ‘banana.’”)–which I really liked as a detail to modernize. And, of course, the book is set in modern day California. Ana’s experience with the Los Angeles foster care system parallels, to some extent, that of Anne’s experience caring for the babies of various families before being sent to PEI. But then the changes get a bit more complicated, and I’m not sure they worked for me as a fan of Anne. Not that I object to changing a book–some adaptations can be fantastic, and I quite liked Ana of California for itself–I’m just not sure it always works as Anne of Green Gables.
First, there’s the role reversal of Marilla and Matthew. I suppose I should say that I am most familiar with the Kevin Sullivan production of Anne of Green Gables. (I have started watching the Amazon production of Anne With an “E,” and I’ve been surprised how much is word-for-word the same as the Sullivan production! And it combines Anne’s flights of fancy with the realistic addition of trauma-induced anxiety attacks–a poignant mix.) I have read the books, and understand the feelings of those book fans who didn’t like some of the changes made for that production. I think they would agree with me, though, that Teran’s updated version of Matthew really missed the mark. Emmett is just not Matthew, and that’s a huge loss in my opinion. Actually, I didn’t feel as though Ana really made a connection with either of the Garber siblings, but the loss of Matthew–painfully shy, sensitive, gentle soul that he was–is a real shame.
In the original, Matthew, and the need to get him some extra help on the farm, are the motivation for sending for an orphan, but once the mix-up has happened and he meets Anne, he totally falls for her–even though she won’t be helping him in the fields. He suggests that Anne can help prickly Marilla in the house, but Marilla wants none of that. In Teran’s version, Abby is the one who instigates the foster care process. She knows in advance that they are getting a girl, and doesn’t tell Emmett. Emmett is the skeptical one. Perhaps the need to change the roles came from the fact that–in a true modern update that I thoroughly approve of–Ana actually is helping Emmett in the fields. Maybe Teran felt that the shy, gentle Matthew character didn’t fit with the modern farmer employing a number of farm hands, including a young woman from the foster care system. But I think that little bit of gender-bending was a great thing in a novel from 1908, and that could have been kept in the modern version to make Emmett a less stereotypical tough farmer.
Here’s an example, though, of where Teran got her Ana just right to fully channel Anne a hundred years into the future:
“Surely this couldn’t be my ride,” Ana thought. Mrs. Saucedo said to expect a single woman named Abigail Garber who’d most likely be thrilled to see her, and not this puzzled-looking man. … “Cortez?” the lumberjack said as he ambled over. “Yeah, I mean, yes, I’m Ana Cortez. Are you Abigail Garber?” “Do I look like Abigail Garber?” “Well, I wouldn’t want to presume. People have all kinds of crazy names these days. Not that it’s a crazy name.” “You’re waiting for Abigail Garber, correct?” “I am. Sir.” Ana held her bag tighter. Emmett nodded his head and clenched his teeth, unable to hide his frustration. “Do you have some sort of paperwork or verification?” he asked. “I don’t have a driver’s license if that’s what you’re asking, but I do have an ID card.” “No, I mean papers telling me your . . . specifics.” “No offense,” Ana said, “but I was told by Mrs. Lupe Saucedo from Los Angeles County Support Child Services that I was to wait for an Abigail Garber to pick me up and not to leave with anyone else.” “I’m Emmett Garber, Abbie’s brother.” “Do you have paperwork or verification?” “This is ridiculous,” Emmett said. “If your name is Cortez and you’re waiting for Abigail Garber to take you to Garber Farm, then I’m your ride.” Ana remained still, her eyes focused and unblinking, making it difficult for Emmett to hold her gaze. He cleared his throat and pulled a well-worn leather wallet out of his back pocket. “The mustache is a beard now,” he said, handing over his license. “I can see that. It’s distinguished. Like a regal lumberjack.” “You think I look like a lumberjack?” “Honestly, I don’t really have a frame of reference.”
This initial exchange between Emmett and Ana is pure Anne (“a regal lumberjack”?!), in her first meeting with Matthew!
Their exchange on the way home is perfect too:
“Dark velvet,” she said. “Excuse me?” “It looks and smells like dark velvet out there—kind of smooth and earthy yet soft with a hint of something undetectable that’ll suffocate you out if you inhale too much. I have a strong nose.” “Looks like it.” “Does it? You’re not the first person to point that out, but I appreciate your honesty and interest in facial aesthetics. My abuela said my nose is a mark of strength, like María Félix’s, and that I’ll grow into it one day. I’m not offended or anything; I think some of the greatest faces are marked by a distinguished nose.” “I meant that it sounds like you have a strong sense of smell.”
“I appreciate your honesty and interest in facial aesthetics”?! I swear this made me laugh out loud, much like many of the things Anne says.
But then we get into the music:
Emmett turned the music up. “It’s kind of funny you put this on,” Ana continued, raising her voice over the volume. “I mean it’s totally apt.” “What is?” Emmett said, turning it back down again, but only slightly. “He says he’s been to Hollywood and Redwood, then he says, ‘I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold . . .’ I didn’t cross the ocean, but I did see it for the first time from the airplane. I’ve been to Hollywood Boulevard a bunch of times, and now I’m here in the redwoods. Neil’s kind of nailin’ it right now. … Anyway, Harvest is way better than After the Gold Rush, which we both found to be a little whiny.” “After the Gold Rush is a masterpiece.” “But it’s like Neil’s struggling to find air when he’s singing, right? Like he’s trying to find his voice or something, and there are way too many other voices throwing themselves around. Also? Not enough harmonicas. But if we’re singling out songs, ‘Birds’ is kind of beautiful if you deafen yourself to the lyrics, which seem maudlin, even for Neil.”
I get what Teran is trying to do, exchanging the music for the literature, which, perhaps makes it more realistic as a modern story, but I think she goes a little too far. The books and poetry that Anne was interested in were popular, well known pieces (though perhaps a little too sensational for a young girl at the time). We do get little snippets of the literature–she’s well-versed in Kerouac for example–but music is her passion.
I honestly skimmed over some of it. I suppose I got more of Anne’s references and reasoning than Ana’s, but a lot of Anne’s charm was that she sometimes got it totally wrong–like when she says that a rose by any other name is still a rose, but a rose just couldn’t smell as sweet if it were a skunk cabbage.
As a side note, I was curious about Ana’s favorite band, the Hex:
“The Hex?” “The band on my T-shirt? They’re this all-girl band from L.A. and are my favorite of favorites. … Well, there’s some yelling involved. … It’s sort of fused with these beautiful, guttural melodies and lyrics of poetic truth. … The lead singer—Rosa Hex—has this incredible voice, but she distorts it and lets the beauty come out only when she wants it to. … The guitars aren’t simple or anything. They have a complex and stubborn sound, fast and howling, and Rosa sings about standing up and facing whatever terrifies you even if it makes you shudder. Sometimes they play topless, but it’s about empowerment and not giving a f—well, not caring what other people think, which is important, especially if you’ve got fear sprinting through your veins. … They’re sick, no other way to describe them—and so loud even when they’re quiet. And they always wear black and white, which dims their outside in order to magnify what they’re expressing from the inside, or so I like to think. Their bassist paints these delicate scenes that hang behind them when they play, these murals painted on tarps that are hypnotic and horrifying, kind of like the paintings by this guy Henry Darger but way less uncomfortable.”
Perhaps unfortunately, The Hex doesn’t seem to be a real band. In fact, the closest thing I found to an inspiration–and I’m not saying this is where Teran got the name or idea–is Hex Girls, a fictional all-girl “eco-goth” band from Scooby-Doo (or at least several of the newer incarnations of Scooby).
Anyway, I’m also not sold on the change from dramatics to drawing. Ana is a budding artist, instead of an orator and actress. Again, it sort of makes sense, but I would have liked to have seen the art teacher become a real mentor to Ana, the way the teacher was to Anne–helping her to learn to chase her dreams and to accept her mistakes. (I still tell my son, “Tomorrow is a new day, with no mistakes in it.”)
I’m not even going to really get into the changes to the character of Gilbert Blythe into Cole or to Diana, Anne’s bosom friend. Suffice it to say that for me, the changes to character were much more problematic in the modernization of Anne than the details of drawing or music, and the “updated” characters of Emmett, Abby, Rye, and Cole really embody that.
But as I said in the beginning, Andi Teran’s Ana of California really did work pretty well for my reading challenge, even if it misses the mark as Anne of Green Gables.
In particular, I loved the Moon’s shop, which is so typical of California. When I travel with my family throughout California, I am always amazed that we can walk into a small town grocery store pretty much anywhere in this state and find organic tofu in several varieties, a plethora of fresh, appealing produce, incense, herbs and homemade soaps, that can be hard to find in major grocery store chains in other states. When we lived in Wisconsin, I had to plan ahead to bring all sorts of hard to find items with us if we left Milwaukee; now I usually don’t bother if we are traveling in California.
There were aisles of grocery items, glass refrigerators lining a wall, and a sign above the front counter pointing to the pharmacy and “licensed herbalist” in the rear of the store. … They rounded a corner of homeopathic remedies and shelves of homemade soap and oils.
There were also a couple of lines about “Alice and the gang over in Berkeley,” referring to Alice Waters, famed champion of the “California cuisine” movement, and some lovely descriptions of northern California.
Birds chattered in the branches above as Ana crunched her feet down the winding path. The late afternoon light dimmed, and the sound of flowing water in the distance echoed off the tree trunks. Walls of green surrounded her on all sides as if the forest were swallowing her, she thought. She took deep breaths, stopping every now and then to crane her neck up to the towering redwoods, barely able to see their tops, let alone the sky. The forest was dark and alive, slices of white sunlight crisscrossing along the path. “There’s nothing more beautiful than this,” Ana thought, imagining unseen fairies floating in the dust that hung in the patches of light.
There’s also an encounter with a mountain lion and a (friendly) bear… not quite sure where the bear came from, but it was kinda fun.
Anyway… on to our next review; we’re close to being finished with California. I promise!