Book: Ana of California by Andi Teran (NEW June 2015)
The most beloved books seem to be those with the most beloved (or at least most fascinating) lead characters. That is certainly true of the book Anne of Green Gables about an orphan girl adopted by a farmer brother and sister who lived on Prince Edward Island. Ten-year-old Anne couldn’t keep her mouth shut, had an enormous vocabulary and a run away imagination. Every little girl who had been told to be sensible and sit quietly, wanted to be just like Anne. And now we have a teen version of Anne in Ana of California.
Anne of Green Gables:
…what a relief not (to) be told that children should be seen and not heard….But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?
The popularity of the original accounts for numerous spin-offs and today’s tourist attraction of Green Gables farm and village and a whole itinerary for fans of Anne on Prince Edward Island. Since somehow I missed Anne (with an “e” she points out, since Ann without an “e” is so ordinary) when I was a little girl pointing out to people that even though it was two words, Vera Marie was meant to be said as one name.
Because I was reading the Bobbsey Twins series and other books like Black Beauty and Heidi and Beautiful Joe instead of Anne of Green Gables, I was not tempted to go to pay homage to Green Gables when I was in the area.
However, I have been to the charming redwood country of northern California where Ana of California is set. Now I wonder if in years to come, there will be tours of Ana’s town of Hadley and the Garber Farm? My conclusion (read on) is probably not.
Ana of California, when Ana first sees the wild forests of northern California:
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.”
Anne of Green Gables, when she first sees the blooming apple trees of Prince Edward Island:
Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight, and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.
“Pretty? Oh, PRETTY doesn’t seem the right word to use. Not beautiful either. They don’t go far enough. Oh, it was wonderful, wonderful. It’s the first think I ever saw that couldn’t be improved by my imagination.”
Ana, a fifteen-year-old orphan of troubled Mexican immigrant parents is very different in many ways from the innocent Anne. Yet, the author clearly was influenced by the older book as she wrote this engrossing coming of age tale. Ana (“Ana like ‘fauna’ not Anna like ‘banana'” she points out with the same sensitivity about names as Anne with an ‘e’).
Both girls, redheads, used to being rejected and totally lacking rural experience, have been sent to a farm run by a sister and brother. In both cases the farmers were hoping for a boy to help with chores. Both girls are vivid personalities. But the differences are so vast, that I hardly identified Ana of California, which reads like a very well written young adult novel with Anne of Green Gables, a children’s book. Both books have and will be read by adults because there are some charming moments and universal truths to be found.
Ana is well versed in music and art because she loves her time in the library in L.A.
“I’ve spent so much time in the library–it’s the only real home I’ve ever known. And even though it’s open only at certain times, it’s always welcoming, no matter who you are or where you come from, it’s there without judgment.”
The publisher does not call this a YA novel, which is just as well, because it might miss an audience with that label. On the other hand, it reads like a YA. Ana’s story is at times heart-wrenching, and the supporting cast of characters are drawn with a depth of intricacy not often seen. I loved Ana and wanted to know what she and all those interesting folks around her were going to do. And because she’s a teen, there’s romance as well.
Teran has a real way with words–the words that come from Ana, mostly. But the novel still qualifies as a light-weight–a perfect summer read that you will breeze through. I say that despite the difficulties of a teen character dealing with being gay and the fact that the book touches on the issue of discrimination against Mexican-Americans, and Ana’s own life experience with gangs and violence. So your opinion may be different.
The focus on what styles and particularly what music is ‘in’ or ‘out’ frequently went over my head. When I looked up Ana’s favorite band, the girl band Hex, I learned that it is fictitious, although she talks about real groups as well. That focus on contemporary teen life, guarantees that Ana will not have the staying power of Anne. Ana of California speaks directly to adults who came up through the sixties and teens of the the 21st century. And it nails them and their culture. But in another decade it will be as incomprehensible as Joyce’s Ulysses without notes.
As a side note, I was fascinated by the farm and the things Abigail Garber cooks and preserves and hauls to the farmer’s market and sells to a restauranteur interested in locally grown produce. Ana learns what kale is and the difference between a Japanese eggplant and a turnip and how to tell weeds from parsley. If you have not been to a farmer’s market recently, this book may inspire you to go. And Teran needs to publish a companion cookbook. I want the meal of roast chicken, carrot salad, rosemary corn bread and lavender lemonade. (She and the publishers, Penguin, have produced a Book Club Kit that does a include a couple of recipes, an interview and a play list of the music mentioned in the book. The pdf may take a while to load.)
Most importantly, I loved Andi Teran’s style. Hispanic herself, she even introduces a bit of magical realism. This is her first novel, and I’m hoping she will expand her reach in the next one, and set free her imagination and ability to create oh-so-memorable characters. And I would love to see her set a novel in her native New Mexico, which she describes beautifully in a Paris Review article about the TV show Breaking Bad. Teran is an author to keep an eye on. Meanwhile, despite my reservations, I recommend Ana of California as a pleasing summer read, for adults as well as teens.
- There are links here to Amazon.com. I am an affiliate, so when you buy something through those links, although it costs you no more, I make a few cents to help pay the rent on A Traveler’s Library. Thanks.
- The Green Gables picture is from Flickr, used with Creative Commons license. The Redwood forest picture is my own. Please inquire before reusing.