First of all, I have to say that I love this book. It is my favorite single book of the series, and it's not even about Anne! It's about her daughter, Rilla. Don't misunderstand me: I absolutely love Anne, but I've had the whole series to get to know her. This book is about the coming of age of a young girl in a difficult time. We see her go from a spoiled, selfish girl to a poised, giving, mature young woman, all during the course of the first World War.
I've been known to say that I love war, because it's what makes history so interesting. I know that sounds horribly cold and flippant, because war is a horrible, hateful thing that steals young lives and breaks the hearts of those waiting back home. Still, no matter the cause, it is still a noble sort of tragedy. This book, written by someone who had clearly experienced the home front, captures both the tragedy and the nobility of it. The most interesting and heroic characters in this particular war tale are good old Susan Baker, Rilla, and Walter. More about Walter later. Let me just say that even if you don't make it through the other books of the series, this one is a must-read all on it's own. Taken together with the other books, it is even more special. It is, in a sense, the culmination of all the previous books and all the character development that has gone on to this point. Anne is not the heroine of this tale. She is too sensitive a soul to be able to handle the horror of war with the strength and spirit that Rilla does. Her character was formed in easier times. Still, she has a quiet dignity all her own that is comfortable in its way.
I love this book and I recommend it. I love it so much so that I can't help but talk about one of my favorite characters ever, but I can't do it without what some would call "spoilers." So if you haven't read it and you might someday, you may not want to read the rest of this post. I'm just warning you. :) Go read the book, then come back and see what I have to say!
Some characters in literature just seem to reach out and touch my soul. For me, Walter Blythe has always been one of those characters. He is truly one of those "in the world and not of it" people, with his poetic soul and his shining grey eyes that see the world in a different way than most. He is that lyric, fanciful, part of Anne's personality, crystalized in a human body. He understands all of the beauty and tragedy of the world because he actually feels it. I know it sounds crazy, but Walter is, and always has been, as real to me as if he had truly lived. It seems impossible that he only exists in the pages of a work of fiction.
Because I love Walter so much for his own merit, and also for the way Rilla loves him, I cry like a baby every time I read those two chapters: "Little Dog Monday Knows" and "And So, Goodnight." I think this time I cried more than I ever had in reading them before, maybe because I'm older now and have tasted a little of the sorrow of life. But somehow, even though it is so incredibly sad, it's also beautiful and inspiring. I think the beauty and inspiration of it make me cry just as much as the fact of Walter's death. There is the sense that when we die, it is not really the end. The soul of a person does live on, both literally and also in the hearts of those who loved him, and in those for whom he died.