Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

In her latest enchanting novel, New York Times bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen invites you to a quirky little Southern town with more magic than a full Carolina moon. Here two very different women discover how to find their place in the world - no matter how out of place they feel.

Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother's life. Such as, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly? And why did she vow never to return? But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew - a reclusive, real-life gentle giant - she realizes that mysteries aren't solved in Mullaby, they're a way of life: Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor bakes hope in the form of cakes.

Everyone in Mullaby adores Julia Winterson's cakes - which is a good thing, because Julia can't seem to stop baking them. She offers them to satisfy the town's sweet tooth but also in the hope of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever. Flour, eggs, milk, and sugar...Baking is the only language the proud but vulnerable Julia has to communicate what is truly in her heart. But is it enough to call back to her those she's hurt in the past?

Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily's backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.

It's only fitting that Sarah Addison Allen writes books about magic; her books are magic in and of themselves. Time to be honest here: I didn't love this one as much as The Sugar Queen but I certainly did enjoy the experience. Redemption. Closure. Family. First loves. The unexplained. The Girl Who Chased the Moon is about all of these things.

Emily goes to live in her mother's hometown, the hometown she never spoke of and didn't think to prepare Emily for but should have. Now that her mother is gone and all her other options have disappeared, Emily goes to live with her grandfather, a total stranger obsessed with their clothes dryer. Imagine going to an unfamiliar town only to find that the mother you loved and worshiped is Public Enemy Number One for what seems to be a good reason. It becomes Emily's mission in Mullaby to redeem her family's name and help heal the scars from an old but not dead scandal. Julia has returned to Mullaby after her father's death only to find that he was in debt crawling up to his eyeballs. Julia doesn't want to live in Mullaby; her heart was broken years ago first by her father and then by most beautiful boy in town and now that she's all grown up, the beautiful boy wants another shot and she's too scared to give it to him. She's promised herself that as soon as she's paid off her father's debt she'll return to her life in Baltimore and open the bakery she's always dreamed of and the last thing Julia wants is to get attached to anyplace or anyone in Mullaby.

Remember that saying about a thing not always being a sum of its parts? (Er, or something along those lines.) That's kind of how I see this book. I love that Allen adds magic to her stories; that magic brings the element of the unexplainable, that feeling that the magic means that something is meant to be. Here, Julia and her cakes are beautiful and sad and yet so right. Sawyer and his "sweet sense" was just awesome (I wonder if I suffer from that - sweets are definitely my favorite). Emily and her fascinations with her wallpaper (I definitely wouldn't want my bedroom walls to change with my mood) and the light in her backyard fit too. But I thought some of the remaining bits of magic were pretty weird. It became like the opposite of something from Twilight (no, I'm not going to explain that one if you haven't read this book). It felt a little too unbelievable, almost sci-fi-ish and yet it works. The thing with Julia and her cakes was more in sync with I think Allen had in mind. It certainly would have been at home in The Sugar Queen, had it fit into the storyline :)

So, I definitely really really liked this book, even if I didn't love everything in it. One thing I did love was watching the relationship blossom between Emily and Win, a bow-tie-wearing teenage member of the family that Emily's mother hurt the most. It had a Romeo and Juliet feel to it and I had to keep reminding myself that they're only seventeen. Here's one of my favorite passages, from page 211-12:

     He watched her from across the room, backlit against the windows. He was moving before he was even aware of what he was doing. He stopped directly behind her, mere inches away. Awareness immediately radiated from her like electricity.
     A full minute passed before he said, "You're suddenly quiet."
     He watched her swallow. "I don't understand how you do this to me."
     He leaned in slightly. Her hair smelled like something flowery, like the fading scent of lilacs. "Do what?"
     "Your touch."
     "I'm not touching you, Emily."
     She turned around. "That's just it. It feels like you are. How do you do that? It's like you have something surrounding you, something I can't see, that reaches out. It doesn't make sense."
     That startled him. She felt it. No one had ever felt it before.
     She waited for him to say something, to explain or deny it, neither of which he could do. He took a step past her, closer to the window. "Your family once owned all of this," he said.
     She hesitated before deciding to accept the change of subject. "All of what?"
     "All of Piney Woods Lake. Years ago, that's how the Shelbys made their money, by selling it off, parcel by parcel." He pointed to the trees in the distance. "All that wooded acreage on the other side of the lake still belongs to your grandfather. That's millions of dollars of potential development. It drives my father crazy. He wants your grandfather to sell him some of it."
     "Because this is our home. For years and years, we thought this was the only place we could live."
     "Is it?"
     He turned to face her. "Do you really want to know?" My weakness.
     "Yes. Yes, of course I do."
     This was it. There was no going back after he told her...

How can you resist reading it now that I've given you a taste? I still have to read Garden Spells even though I know have my own copy but I fully expect to go 3 for 3 with Sarah Addison Allen.

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