Book review: ‘The Girl Who Chased The Moon’ by Sarah Addison Allen

Emily Benedict arrives in a small North Carolina town fresh on the grief train from her mother’s passing. Moving in with a grandfather she never knew — Vance Shelby, a real-life giant — becomes an unexpected adventure. Once her own mother’s home, Mullaby is full of interesting characters and tiny, inexplicable magical moments.

At the house next door, Julia Winterson has busied herself caring for a bustling restaurant business. After her father’s death years before, Julia returns to Mullaby — a place she fled decades ago — to take care of his business and debts before returning to Baltimore, where she’s steadfastly worked to build a new life. Julia gives herself two years to pay off her father’s debts, planning to sell his successful barbeque joint and run far away from a past that still haunts her. But Sawyer Anderson let her get away once — and he definitely isn’t planning on watching her flee again. Especially not if that means her delicious desserts — and their feelings — will disappear.

Sarah Addison Allen’s The Girl Who Chased The Moon, the third of her magical stand-alone novels, is a sweet if on-the-surface story of two women discovering details about the past as they struggle to move forward in the present. Once she arrives in Mullaby, Emily realizes the depth of the secrets her mother kept from her in life. And Julia has worked steadfastly to convince herself that she was never in love with Sawyer and that their shared history doesn’t matter, but it’s obvious to everyone — including the reader — that the well of her feelings runs deep.

While I read this novel quickly — it’s breezy — I have to admit that I expected more from the talented Ms. Allen. From the beginning, the more compelling narrative was Julia’s — and her memories, especially from high school, were buried beneath a less-interesting “mystery” surrounding the Coffeys, a well-to-do family with an unfortunate connection to the Shelbys. Of course, Emily doesn’t know anything about this when she meets Win Coffey, an attractive if broody young man who can’t seem to stay away from her — though he probably should.

Julia and Sawyer’s love story was, by far, the most fun and entertaining part of the novel. I loved their banter, though I ultimately found their back-story pretty thin. Most of what I “felt” while reading was just by interjecting my own emotions into the narrative, remembering first love and the pain of an eventual break-up. Without my own experiences, I feel like even the Sawyer-and-Julia moments would have fallen flat.

Though the book is short — less than 300 pages — I still found the pacing too slow. Secrets were revealed but very slowly, and I became intensely frustrated by Win’s cryptic responses to everything Emily asked . . . and the fact that we would wait many pages without any new tidbits of information. The evolution of their friendship felt a little contrived and unnatural to me, and I failed to see where their attraction stemmed from. I pictured Win as a Logan Huntzberger (for the “Gilmore Girls” fans) or a Chuck Bass (for my “Gossip Girls”), but Emily was just a wisp of a girl who never seemed to deal with the actual grief of losing her only parent. She seemed dull, confused and, honestly, uninteresting.

The town of Mullaby was interesting, but I never felt like I was actually there; the town was like a movie backdrop set up in the middle of the desert. I could see that I was supposed to be immersed in a scene, but my eye just kept wandering to the exposed periphery.

But as with her other novels, Allen’s strengths come in describing food. Like The Sugar Queen, one of my favorite books, the descriptions of desserts and sweets were intoxicating. Sawyer’s “sweet sense” was a really fun touch and added another magical element to the tale, which wasn’t nearly as focused on the inexplicable as her first two books.

Fans of contemporary or Southern fiction who appreciate tiny magical touches might enjoy Allen’s tale of family, love and redemption. Being a mighty fan of Allen’s from her Garden Spells days, I expected more from her latest novel, but readers new to her work shouldn’t hesitate to pick up some of her sweet stories. The Girl Who Chased The Moon didn’t earn a spot on my coveted favorites shelf, but it was still an enjoyable way to spend a weekend. And wow, I loved looking at that gorgeous cover!


3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0553807218 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Copy borrowed from my local library

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Festival Of The… What?

After finishing Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen last week and reading Garden Spells last year, I’ve been very eager to see what the master of magical realism has in store next! I use BookMooch to manage my general “wishlist,” keeping track of all the fantastic novels I can’t wait to read (someday), so I innocently entered her little name in the database to see what else I could find.

Turns out Ms. Allen does have another novel up her sleeve — due out in March 2010. The title, you ask? Well . . .

allen_screencap

That’s right — Festival Of The Naked Lady!

Okay, no — before you panic, this is merely the old, working title that was first released in pre-publication news, according to Allen’s official website. Amazon.com has a listing for the new novel up, and it’s most definitely called The Girl Who Chased The Moon. But for some reason, I can’t help but stare, slack-jawed, at the database return. And honestly, it makes me giggle a bit.

girl_who_chasedHere’s Amazon’s product description of the — ahemreal new novel:

In her latest enchanting novel, New York Times bestelling 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. For instance, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly? 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. She offers them to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth and in the hope of bringing back the love she fears she’s lost forever. In Julia, Emily may have found a link to her mother’s past. But why is everyone trying to discourage Emily’s growing relationship with the handsome and mysterious son of Mullaby’s most prominent family? Emily came to Mullaby to get answers, but all she’s found so far are more questions.

Sounds awesome, right?

I’m pretty sure Festival Of The Naked Lady would be quite a different tale!