Title: Garden Spells
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Published: September 2007
Genre(s): Women’s Fiction, Magical Realism
Summary: Claire Waverly lives a singular existence in small town North Carolina. She tends to her legendary garden and feeds the town through her catering business. She keeps to herself and ignores the whispers from the towns people. See, Claire is part of the storied Waverly family, a family about which there is much lore. It is rumored that the women of the Waverly family have magical powers including their mystical garden full of herbs and plants that make you feel things. There is even a town legend that the apple tree in their garden produces fruit that if bitten into will show you visions of the most important moment of your life, for better or worse. Claire is used to the stories and how people keep their distance, but her younger sister Sydney never liked being classified as different and fled the town, never to be heard from again, right after graduating high school. Sydney’s life is not what she had sought when she first left home in search of something greater. She moved from town to town, stealing and using people as she needed to get to where she wanted. When she tired of a situation or relationship, she simply left, just like their mother did. However, Sydney now finds herself tethered to a man that hurts her, living a tiny life, worrying only about the protection of their daughter. She works with a friend to sneak away to the one place she thinks he’ll never find her, home. This is how Sydney and Claire come to be reunited in their childhood home. Surrounding the Waverly’s is a town full of quirky people, all of whom are curious about the strange family. Sydney and Claire need to learn how to live together, forgive one another, and get to know the truth about their family and each other.
Why I Recommend: This book was so magical! I found this book recommendation from a post by Modern Mrs. Darcy, 15 Fantasy Novels That Are Grounded In Reality, and it did not disappoint. I think the title of that list is a perfect description of how magic is used in this delightful story. Magic is mild and minimal and just a bit mysterious, never used in a way that makes the story seem too out of touch with what is possible. The way Allen sets up the Waverly family as the strange family in your town that seems just a bit different from other families really rooted this in reality for me. There is always that house in your town that is rumored to be haunted, or that family that has lore surrounding it. This made the Waverlys feel so realistic to me. Claire and Sydney are the sisters that serve as main protagonists of this book, but there are a handful of supporting characters that also have a chance at narration who are all just as compelling. You follow Sydney’s young daughter, Bay, who already show signs of the Waverly skills. There is Claire and Sydney’s aunt (maybe cousin?), Evanelle, who has an instinct to bring people what they need before they know what it’s intended to be used for. I think Evanelle may have been my favorite character with just the right amount of crazy. Emma Clark gets her turns as well as she struggles with insecurity at Sydney’s return possibly reigniting the first love flames with Emma’s husband. You also get to hear from Fred, an older man suffering from heartbreak, and then Tyler and Henry who are both suffering from heartache from the Waverly sisters. I enjoyed the narration from every character who had a turn.
There is a distinctive mystique that settles over this book that made me feel engrossed in this small town. I loved Allen’s writing, a style that is all her own. There is something about this book that kept making me think of the movie version of Where The Heart Is, you know the one with Ashley Judd and Natalie Portman? Maybe it was the quirky characters who carry heavy burdens. The character Stockard Channing played in that movie really gave me Evanelle vibes. I haven’t thought about or seen that movie in years, but it kept coming to mind when reading this book. This story offers a sweet story about estranged sisters coming together and trying to fix their relationship. Part of their healing involves opening their hearts to others and embracing who they are, regardless of the town’s acceptance of their oddities. This is just a really satisfying read that will make you smile and tickle your whimsical sensibilities. I am excited to try out some of Allen’s other books, including her sequel to this one, First Frost.