The Strays by Emily Bitto

The Strays follows a young girl, Lily, in Australia, beginning with her childhood during the Great Depression and then concluding with an adult retrospective. Lily is an only child and when she begins at a new school, she befriends the vibrant Eva who lives with her parents and two sisters. Eva’s parents, particularly her father, are artists and their house becomes a gathering point for many other Australian artists and their bohemian lifestyle.

Lily, although she feels disloyal, vastly prefers Eva’s family to her own, and her time with them forces her to examine her own ideas about growing up, family, friendship, and the complexities of isolation and togetherness.

I think I would have read this book differently had I not been a mother. My heart ached for both Lily and Eva, neither of home received the parenting that they deserved, and for their mothers who were simply unable to provide things for their volatile teenaged daughters. I had a hard time relating to either Lily or Eva- relating instead to the mothers who were more auxiliary characters. The mothers were, to me, more compelling characters than the daughters.

Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane

Maud, a young adult historical fiction novel, tells the story of the teenage years of L.M. Montgomery. The story follows 14-15 year old Maud as she is shuffled between family members from Prince Edward Island to Saskatchewan, while she strives to cultivate and maintain her sense of self and ambition.

This book shows, in particular, how many of Maud’s experiences led directly to the creation of Anne, and consequently at times (particularly in the beginning), it was difficult to separate the two. As the book went on, for this reader at least, it became easier to distinguish Maud’s experiences from Anne’s.

While I’ve heard this book, and therefore Maud’s life, described as ‘heartbreaking,’ it felt accurate to me for the time period. A difficult time for women, Maud didn’t have a head start on much of anything in life- but yet she was able to persevere and I think one of the strengths of this book was showing just how difficult that perseverance was. It captured her need for the act of writing to provide a release from the drudgery and hardship of everyday life. It showed that while family may not have always supported Maud in the way she would have liked, she was able to make valuable friends who became her allies in the most difficult situations.

Knowing the end of the story (as one does with the story of L.M. Montgomery), did a couple things for me. Perhaps knowing of her ultimate success made it easier to read about the early hardships and rejection. But certainly it made the book seem unfinished. While *I* know that L.M. Montgomery eventually because a successful author, the reader of Maud never got the satisfaction of seeing that come about. While this certainly was outside the scope of the project at hand, it left me wanting more from the story.