Review: Teen Fiction

Book Review: Ana of California by Andi Teran

This 2015 novel is an adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, set in California in the modern day. We follow Ana Cortez, a 15-year-old orphan who is sent as an intern to the farm of the Garber siblings.

Ana of California fails as an adaptation: a failure so expansive that it damages this book as a story in its own right, as well.

This review will contain as few spoilers as possible, only referencing events that occur early on in the book.

Before I begin to talk about this book, I would like to discuss my view on adaptations. I began this blog on the premise that I would use it mostly to review fairy tale adaptations. I chose to do this not to disparage adaptations, but because I love them. That is why there is, beside the list of reviews on this blog, a list of recommended fairy tale adaptations. I like older stories adapted into the modern day, or into a futuristic world or alternative historical setting. I enjoy seeing a beloved story taken and told and retold again, always changed and colored by the author’s own interpretation of the story. In most respects, there is no limit to the changes I can get behind.

The only limit is when I feel that the adaptation premise is only being used to cash in on a pre-existing audience. No doubt there are cases in which this is the underlying reason for the existence of the adaptation, but it is still enjoyable. Yet the writer has to have some love for the source material, and some cohesive idea of the story they want to tell, as well as the degree to which the source material will define the final product. If there is no love of the source material, then that can become a hindrance, dragging the story in directions contrary to those that the author truly wishes; and this creates a story very frustrating to read.

Let me be clear: Andi Teran is a talented author. The writing itself was engaging and enjoyable. The dialogue and the parts of the story unchatteled to the burden that is the book Anne of Green Gables were very enjoyable to read.

The beginning of this book was very entertaining to read. Ana, with her fierce sense of justice and wild ramblings, seemed a very fitting modern interpretation of Anne. Abbie and Emmet, interpretations of Marilla and Matthew respectively, also fascinated me. While some parts of Marilla and Matthew had been left intact, they were wildly different people. This was, I thought, well-executed.

But alarm bells began to go off in my head at the scene when Emmet goes to pick up Ana at the airport. In the original book, Matthew is looking for a boy because that is what he and Marilla had asked for, and what they expected. In a world without internet-mediated instant communication, they had no way of knowing there had been a mix-up until Anne showed up. Not so in this book! It keeps the premise that they had requested a boy but the system recommended Ana instead; yet Abbie had been informed, accepted, and thus well aware that they were expecting a girl. She deliberately sends Emmet to the airport with only Ana’s last name, Cortez, and without the knowledge that they are expecting a girl.

This is baffling to me. Not only is it irresponsible, but it’s also nonsensical. If she knew that Emmet would object and didn’t want to give him the chance to object, she could have told him just as he was going to pick Ana up.

This felt to me like a thing that the author felt had to be included, but did not care to think very hard about how or why the miscommunication might occur. Yet that is also the author’s interpretation; I could get past it.

Abbie is extremely welcoming and accommodating, going out of her way to make Ana feel at home in a motherly fashion from the very start. The further I read the less resemblance she bore to Marilla; but again, this was a change I could welcome. Ana, extremely chatty with Emmet on the drive to the farm, seems very like Anne; yet she is not always chatty. It seems that Ana’s natural state is one of wariness and caution, not one to hold back her opinion but also not one to go blurting out her thoughts at the drop of a hat. When occasionally she does lapse into the chatty persona, it seems less a character trait and more a moment where the author remembered that she was supposed to be somewhat like Anne. Emmet, silent and broody, seemed at first a fascinating reinterpretation of the silent and shy Matthew. Yet while Matthew took an instant liking to Anne, Emmet spends most of the book too caught up in his own thoughts and problems to even care about Ana.

Thus when Ana makes her first Anne-ish blunder–told to weed the plants over-growing the parsley, she does not know which the parsley is so takes a guess and accidentally uproots all the parsley–it is not remotely her fault. It is entirely Emmet’s fault: even after Ana as told him that she has only rarely seen parsley in food, does not like it, and has never seen the plant, he persists in asking her if she can distinguish the parsley from the weeds. By the time she says that she thinks so, she has reiterated her ignorance of parsley at length. Emmet was distracted at the time, and this is made clear to us readers, as well as his guilt afterwards; yet there doesn’t seem a way to avoid the thought that on some level, he seemed to be setting Ana up to fail.

The last straw came for me in the form of Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s counterpart, a certain Minerva Shaw. In the original book, she is an outspoken woman with a penchant for gossip and a distrust of orphans based on two anecdotes she has heard of. Upon meeting Anne, she immediately launches into several derogatory comments about Anne’s appearance, including commenting on the ugliness of her red hair, which is something Anne is extremely sensitive of already. After Anne forces herself to apologize, however, Mrs. Lynde concedes that she sometimes says more than she should, and tells Anne an anecdote about a girl she knew who had red hair as a child that darkened into auburn as she grew up: a hope that means a great deal to Anne. Mrs. Lynde is perhaps not the most likable of characters, but nor is she hateful or mean-spirited.

In Ana of California, this confrontation has become a racist diatribe of Minerva’s regarding Ana’s Mexican origins. Her concerns are only alleviated when she learns that Ana was born in L.A., has never been to Mexico, and is an orphan with no living family. Yes, this character considers a teenager alone in the world to be better than a teenager with family living in Mexico. Ana, though angered at the initial racism exhibited towards Mexicans, says nothing to counter the subsequent statements Minerva makes, apparently content to leave things on this horrifying note rather than continue the conversation.

I spent a great deal of time contemplating whether I was being unfair. Then I decided that I am not. It is made clear in text, lest the reader make the mistake of thinking this town a friendly place, that the people are generally quite closed-minded, and Abbie is an exception. Rye (the counterpart of Diana, Anne’s best friend) is a lesbian, who tells Ana that no one is accepting of her; her parents claim to be okay with it, but never speak of it or ask her anything. This book had a story it wanted to tell, about a girl who has led a difficult life in LA, moving to a farm in a tiny, closed-minded town. In that case, I wish that Teran had simply wrote that story and not tried to shoehorn Anne of Green Gables into it.

As it is, this adaptation felt even heavier emotionally than Anne with an E. A remarkable feat, all things considered.

And I fear that I would not be able to enjoy this even detatched from Anne of Green Gables, because so many elements, including Ana’s fluctuating personality, lose relatability as they try to follow a story that did not belong here.

Perhaps I was unfair to suggest that Teran has no love for Anne of Green Gables. Perhaps the opposite is true: that Teran loved the book too much, and so wanted to write a retelling that that desire became a deafness to the story’s cries to be permitted to head in a different direction.

Whatever the case, I regret to say, this was one of the hardest reads I have ever experienced. I truly wished to escape before I was half way through, and I would have permitted myself that if I were not determined to review this for my Anne of Green Gables palooza. I made it through the remaining pages by skimming in small doses. Even then, it was difficult. I can’t remember the last time I so deeply disliked a book. I can only hope that time will soften my memory of it.

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