After experiencing recent frustration at current middle grade fiction, I needed a book I could rely on. I turned to Rilla of Ingleside, the eighth book in the Anne of Green Gables series.
I somehow missed the Anne of Green Gables books in my childhood and instead read them during college. I, of course, loved the entire series. Everybody loves Anne Shirley. However, it was the eighth book--the book in which Anne is only a background character and the focus is instead on Anne and Gilbert's youngest daughter Rilla--that I always remembered most fondly.
Canada was similar to the United States in that the war was very far away. Rilla of Ingleside highlights this fact with by having characters amazed at the geography they have learned and confused about how to pronounce certain European location names. But the similarities between Canada and the U.S. end there. While the U.S. waited to enter the war until 1917, Canada was sending her sons to war in 1914 when Great Britain entered the war. In those long years of war, Canadians waited in frustration for the U.S. to join them in the fight while they waited to hear from their sons who had been away so very long. The character Susan is repeatedly annoyed by Woodrow Wilson's writing of notes in response to an outrage rather than declaring war.
In Rilla of Ingleside, Montgomery explores so many various responses to the war. Anne and Gilbert's oldest son is anxious to sign up to fight. Their second son worries about killing other men as well as enduring long lasting pain. He faces criticism for being a coward as well as the notorious white feather. The town includes a pacifist as well as those who believe England's Navy can do no wrong.
Montgomery's focus on Rilla is brilliant. Rilla is 15 when the war begins. She is unfocused and a little selfish. The war changes her. She becomes the foster mother to a war baby. During the time period she should be going to dances and courting, all the males her age have gone off to war. She must mourn those who don't return from the war.
Rilla of Ingleside is truly a historically valuable book. Written so close to the end of the World War I, it captures what life was like on the home front. I have recently found myself more interested in books that focus on people and villages that are surrounded by the actual battles. It was nice to be reminded of the struggles of those who sent the sons to a war that was so far away, to fight in places they had never heard of.