With the New Year, I’ve been thinking a lot about fresh starts and new beginnings. There’s a mind-boggling array of books devoted to this theme:
– In some cases, the fresh start is internally driven, like L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle or Colleen McCullough’s The Ladies of Missalonghi, in which the downtrodden spinster heroines decide enough is enough already, throw off the shackles of their families, speak their minds, and pursue them men they love;
– I’d put Sarah MacLean’s Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake into this same category, a heroine who assesses her life and decides it’s time for a change, as I would Eva Ibbotsen’s A Company of Swans, in which the heroine makes the choice to run away from her father’s arid household to join a ballet company en route to the Amazon and adventure.
– In other cases, the change is entirely involuntary and unwanted. You see a lot of young adult literature with this theme: Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, in which the death of the heroine’s parents propels her sulkily from India to a secluded house in Yorkshire– and, of course, a secret garden; Rosemary Clement-Moore’s The Splendor Falls, in which a fall ruins a teenager’s ballet career and sees her unwillingly dispatched from Manhattan to relatives down south; or, one of my favorites, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, in which the heroine is kidnapped and carried away to a strange land with a strange culture to be trained to fight in a war of which she hasn’t even heard.
– Sometimes, making a fresh start means a journey away, a break with all that’s familiar, like Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Breathing Room, in which the heroine flees the wreckage of career and relationship with a wild fling in Tuscany. There is, of course, the very archetype of this model, Elizabeth von Armin’s The Enchanted April in which four very different Englishwomen leave a dreary English spring and their problems behind to rent a castle in Tuscany.
– In other books, the fresh start is just the opposite: it’s going back to the beginning, like Susan Wiggs’s Just Breathe, in which the very pregnant heroine leaves the wreckage of her marriage to return to the home town she hasn’t seen since college. Ditto Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Ain’t She Sweet? and It Had to Be You, both about heroines starting a new life by returning to the scene of the old one, or Mary Stewart’s wonderful Nine Coaches Waiting, in which, after years in an orphanage in England, the heroine returns to her native France, this time as a foreigner and a governess.
What are your favorite books about fresh starts and new beginnings?