Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

GENRE: romance/Southern fiction/magical realism

Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother's life. But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew, she realises 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 neighbour, Julia Winterson, bakes hope in the form of cakes, offering them to satisfy the town's sweet tooth - but also in the hope of rekindling a love she fears might be lost forever. 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.

I finally managed to read this book – I’ve waited for months to do so – and luckily, it met my expectations. Yet again, Addison Allen delivered a heart-warming tale sprinkled with magic, love and hope.

Set in Mullaby in North Carolina, a town in which everyone knows everyone and their secrets, the story of the novel is about two women – Emily Benedict, a teenage girl whose mother died and she goes to live with her grandfather in Mullaby, a man she didn’t know even existed; and Julia Winterson, a woman in her thirties who returned to Mullaby to pay off her dead father’s debts, but doesn’t plan on staying in a town that wounded her.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Mullaby and of the main characters in the novel. The town is special, although it seems to be a typical Southern town on the surface, and the characters are delightfully multi-dimensional and individualistic. And, there is always a bit of magic involved. Emily’s grandfather, Vance Shelby, is a giant of man – quite literally, for he is 8 feet tall. But he is a gentle, shy giant. The Coffey family, the most important family in Mullaby, is reputed for never leaving their house at night and rumours certainly have wings in Mullaby. Strange lights, known as the Mullaby lights, keep appearing in Vance’s garden and the wallpaper in Emily’s new bedroom keeps changing according to her mood. There is a man, Sawyer, who has an extremely sweet tooth and can actually see smells and Julia Winterson bakes cakes that give people hope, but foremost, they give her hope. The setting and the characters truly are wonderful.

The story begins with Emily’s arrival to Mullaby. Her presence stirs old resentments and long-suppressed feelings and Emily begins to realise that her mother was not always the person she knew and admired. She also experiences first love, which is not an easy affair, as the boy she likes belongs to the Coffey family and the Coffeys are not supposed to like her because of what her mother did – besides, there is the issue of the Coffey secret. Emily also stirs Julia Winterson into action, unintentionally melting Julia’s guard, so that Julia finally faces herself and resolves the unresolved issues in her life. The two women really are great characters, each of them coping with a personal tragedy. Emily is sweet, innocent and eager to be accepted in Mullaby. She is also energetic and sensitive. She is a normal teenager and she actually reminds me of myself when I was that age. Julia looks like a rebel and she used to be one, but she is a vulnerable woman inside, terrified that the one person she has been trying to avoid will notice that she’s not so tough, after all. She is an excellent baker and she always bakes with her windows open, hoping that the sweet smell will bring back a person she lost years ago.

The novel is, essentially, about facing one’s fears and one’s self, not giving up hope and not giving up on love. The elements of magic seem natural and unobtrusive and I love the author’s imagination for being able to come up with such delightful magical elements. There is food involved and I noticed that I always ate something while reading the novel. Both women – Emily and Julia – chase the moon, in a symbolical sense. They perceive the notion of the moon differently, but what I found very important and uplifting is that they persist in their search, for which they are rewarded with finding their moons.

The ending was a bit open, yet not in an annoying sense, as everything that needed to be resolved was resolved and explained. All the transformations that the characters experience seemed plausible and performed at a natural pace. I think the way the novel ended is perfect. You know all will be well after the final chapter, but you are left to imagine the good that will follow your own way.

After reading the novel, I felt very warm and content and I love books that give me such a feeling. I may be a little biased, mind you, as I am a fan of Sarah Addison Allen, but I am not blind in my devotion, so I can honestly say that this was a magical and wonderful read for me.

I definitely recommend this novel. Sarah Addison Allen is a wonderful writer.



Blodeuedd said...

There was another cover on this one too, night..a girl..anyway sounds good :) I'd like to read her one day

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I've this (or something by Addison Allen) on my list for a while because I've heard good things about her books. This sounds wonderful and I love what you say about books that leave you feeling warm and content.

Katy said...

I really liked this one too! :) It definitely was a feel-good read.

Jen said...

I'm so glad you loved this book! You'd probably love her 1st book: Garden Spells, too. Sarah Addison Allen is a good writer.

Unknown said...

What a touching, tender review. I can see that this writer really matters to you. It sounds like a wonderful novel full of the most important magic - love.

Jan von Harz said...

I have seen this title on blogs from time to time, but this is the first review of it that I have read. I loved your description of the town. It is rare that a setting plays such an important role in a story and this makes me very interested in the book.Thanks for another wonderful review.