I didn't want to start this book, because I didn't want it to end. Anne of Green Gables must be my all-time favorite YA book, even though it is not something I want to reread at this point in my life.
Before seems meant to be read after all of the original titles, which makes sense, since it was commissioned to mark the centenary of the first Anne. Having a writer from Nova Scotia work on it was a good move-- the local flavor and nuances are clearly evident throughout.
The premise is this: how did Anne, who suffered through a horrific childhood in foster homes and an orphanage, become the imaginative and spunky child that she was. This is certainly made clear, and the short answer to this question is that she met kind and caring people who encouraged her interests, even if she spent very little time with them. This was very touching to read as an educator. We can only hope that it is true.
In style, presentation and theme, this is a worthy addition to the Anne canon. I sighed deeply when I turned the last page. I know the rest of the story. This was the final bit left untold. Brava.
I am tempted to hand this book to my students who like the novels about child abuse. While Anne is not exactly abused, she is certainly neglected, and the stories of her taking care of three sets of twins under the age of 4, dealing with an alcholic foster father, and walking two miles to get eggs would appeal to these students. Would they then go on to read the series? Hard to tell.
Other reading: Jenny Downham's Before I Die, which was on the ALA Best Books 2008 list, was an equisitely sad story of a girls final battle with cancer. I wept through the last few chapters, which I don't normally do. However, this is not for middle school students. Tessa has made a list of everything that she would like to do before she dies, and it consists largely of having sex, doing drugs, shoplifting, and a number of other behaviors that are not appropriate.
Another book more suited for older teens, more because of its style, is Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine. Again, very good, but centered more around a mystery than my fantasy fans generally want.
One I did like-- the second Muchamore CHERUB book-- The Dealer. Very dense and chock full of action and fun adventure. The CHERUBs infiltrate a drug cartel that uses children to make deliveries. My favorite bit: '"Really sensible, James," She shouted. "Two kids in a stolen car carrying drugs and guns. I tell you what: Why don't we attract lots of attention by slaughtering the spped limit?"' Sure to keep the fans of spy fiction reading.