A Girl of the Limberlost -- Gene Stratton-Porter

Yes, yes, I'm a bad person.  This was my first reading of A Girl of the Limberlost.

But, jeez.  I would have read it much sooner if someone had thought to inform me that the second half is a swoonfest.

It's the story of Elnora Comstock, who grows up very poor on the edge of the Limberlost swamp.  Because of her father's tragic death*, her mother has never shown her any love.  But her interest in nature and her love of the Limberlost provide some comfort, and her childless neighbors, Wesley and Margaret Sinton, have always showered her with affection.

A Girl of the LimberlostMore than anything else, Elnora wants to go to school.  She doesn't have the money, though -- until she discovers this:

There it stood in a bank window in big black letters staring straight at her:

Wanted:  Caterpillars, Cocoons, Chysalides, Pupae Cases, Butterflies, Moths, Indian Relics of All Kinds.  Highest Scale of Prices Paid in Cash. 

Elnora caught the wicket at the cashier's desk with both hands to brace herself against disappointment.

"Who is it wants to buy cocoons, butterflies, and moths?" she panted.

"The Bird Woman," answered the cashier.  "Have you some for sale?"

So.  Elnora goes to school.  She also brings about the adoption of three children, discovers that she has an incredible talent for the violin, teaches natural history and yes, falls in love.

But the man she falls for is already taken.

I found it totally, totally engrossing -- even the natural history lectures.  While I can see why people compare it to Anne of Green Gables, I do think it's quite a bit darker -- Anne's early life is miserable, sure, but she never doubted that her parents loved her.  Elnora KNOWS that her mother hates her -- and she has to live with that every day.  Rough stuff.

Even so, definitely a good pick for fans of Anne** and other good, mostly gentle, old-fashioned-y stories.

Now I want to read Freckles.

*He drowned in the swamp, Elnora's mother saw it happen but couldn't save him because she went into labor.

**Elnora, in real life, would be much less maddening, I think.  I wouldn't want to duct tape her mouth shut, which, in comparison to Anne Shirley, is really saying something.