when marnie was there

At Home with the Editors: Amy’s 9th Grade Reading List

At Home with the Editors: Amy’s 9th Grade Reading List

Our 9th grade homeschool reading list is heavy on U.S. history and literature, with an effort to bring in diverse voices and stories. (Plus lots of physical science and a Studio Ghibli lit class!)

Summer Reading: When Marnie Was There

When Marnie Was There
By Joan G. Robinson

Reading level: Middle grades

She turned and began running back along the dyke, thinking how strange it was—about being ‘inside’ or ‘outside’. It was nothing to do with there being other people, or whether you were ‘an only’, or one of a large family...she knew that now—it was something to do with how you were feeling inside yourself.

I lucked into a funny-smelling, plain-covered hardback of When Marnie Was There at a library sale at some point during middle school, and it was love at first page. Anna, an orphan, is sent by her kind-hearted but not-sure-what-to-do-with-her foster mother to stay with some friends who live by the sea.

Anna has never fit in anywhere. She’s never had a friend. And she spends much of her time and energy trying to keep her face blank, so that it’s perfectly clear that she doesn’t want friends anyway. But then she meets Marnie, who’s as lonely as she is and frustratingly mysterious. Anna and Marnie vow to keep their growing friendship a secret from everyone else, but having a real friend is already changing Anna—she forgets to avoid people and keep her expression completely neutral. Then, one day, with no warning, Marnie vanishes, and a big family with lots of children moves into the house on the marsh. To Anna’s great surprise (and despite her initial reluctance), she discovers that being Marnie’s friend has opened the door for her to be friends with other people.

It’s a simple little story with a neat twist that I won’t give away and dreamy, introspective prose that’s really lovely to read. Anyone who’s ever felt on the outside of things (which is really everyone, isn’t it?) will identify with Anna, and like Anna, be captivated by the bewitching, capricious Marnie and by the wild marsh and sea, which become characters themselves. I especially love the little current of sadness that runs through the book, right up to and through the (otherwise happy) ending. Childhood is equal parts happy and sad, finding and losing, delight and sorrow, and I think When Marnie Was There hits that winsome balance just right, so that if you get a little teary at the end (and I do), you’re smiling, too. Highly recommended.

(Summer reading bingo: See the movie adaptation—it’s delightful!—to mark this one off your card.)