Originally published in 1967, When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson was recently re-released in anticipation of its new Japanese anime movie adaptation, which is due out soon (with a spring 2015 release date for the U.S.). Although I hadn’t heard of the middle-grade novel before, apparently its author was quite well known for her children’s books. I enjoyed listening to the audiobook of this gentle yet surprisingly complex story of a misfit finding her place in the world.
Anna is an orphan who lives with foster parents. She doesn’t talk much or have any friends, and her caring foster parents arrange for her to spend a season at the seaside with a kind old couple named Mr. and Mrs. Pegg, in the hopes that the fresh sea air will do her some good. Anna likes it at the shore and spends her days wandering among the sand dunes, marshes, and waves, though she is still very solitary.
One day, Anna meets a girl her age named Marnie, who lives at Marsh House, and everything changes. She and Marnie become good friends, share secrets, and spend time together – Anna has her first real friend. She feels truly happy for the first time in a long time, but then things change again when Marnie leaves suddenly and without warning. Anna is hurt and confused and misses her friend.
Soon after, a new family named the Lindsays moves into Marsh House, with five children. Emboldened by her good experiences with Marnie, Anna is fascinated by the new arrivals and is receptive when they want to be friends with her. She is soon a frequent visitor to the Marsh House and once again has friends.
|An image from the upcoming movie|
To that point, it all seems like a gentle, straightforward tale, but there are mysteries and secrets woven into this sweet narrative. Anna has questions about Marnie that she can’t answer, and a new discovery by one of the Lindsay children throws a new wrinkle into things. I won’t say anymore about the plot because part of the fun of this novel is the surprises uncovered along the way. It has more complexity than I first thought and is an engaging, unique story about friendship and family, both the kind you come from and the kind you make for yourself.
You can listen to a sample of the audio at this link: