Monday, May 23, 2016

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

Reviewed by Ambrea

After her mother died, Emily Benedict arrived in Mullaby, North Carolina, with the hope of solving some of the riddles that had plagued her for years—and, more importantly, get to know the grandfather she never knew.  But, as she digs deep into the mysteries of her mother’s adolescence, she discovers that Mullaby is rife with mysteries:  rooms where wallpaper changes to suit a person’s mood, unexplained lights that appear at midnight, and magical cakes—like those of Julia Winterson.

Julia, who has returned to her former hometown, is known and loved for her cakes.  She has a magical touch with flour, butter, milk, eggs, and sugar that seems to enthrall the entire town; however, Julia doesn’t just bake to keep herself and her father’s business afloat:  she bakes to recall the past and, she hopes, bring back a lost love.  She hopes to leave as soon as she can.  Her rocky relationship with Sawyer aside, Julia wants to leave Mullaby—and her hurtful past—behind.

But Mullaby is not what Emily or Julia has come to expect.  Together, they will discover a richness and beauty to Mullaby that they’ve never seen—and a love that they never thought they would find.

I actually picked up The Girl Who Chased the Moon as an audiobook.  It’s one of the first audiobooks I’ve listened to since Hank the Cowdog was considered one of my favorites—back when we still had a cassette tape player in our car—so it’s rather special to me, since it revived and heightened my interest in listening to books again.  Although I’ve listened to other audiobooks that I’ve enjoyed a little more than Sarah Addison Allen’s novel (such as Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe and Kitchens of the Great Midwest), I was pleasantly surprised by The Girl Who Chased the Moon.

Like both Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen, Allen’s novel is filled with little unexpected joys, everyday magic that jumps out and surprises you.  Like the wallpaper in Emily’s room, or Sawyer’s “sweet sense,” or the secrets of the Mullaby’s most illustrious family, or the frogs that hold a special significance for Emily’s grandfather.  It’s fascinating to see this magical dynamic at work in Mullaby, to see how the town accepts and even celebrates some of its local oddities.

Speaking of oddities, I found I really liked Julia and her magical ability to bake delicious cakes.  More than any other character, maybe even more than Emily, Julia held a special place in my heart.  I liked her for her troubled adolescence and her steely resolve to live her own life, to leave Mullaby behind once she gets her father’s business and her rocky relationship with Sawyer settled.  She’s essentially damaged by her past, by a number of bad years in her youth, but she has managed to heal and reinvent herself and, more importantly, grow into the woman she wishes to be.

I’m not saying Julia isn’t flawed, and I’m not saying she isn’t damaged.  She isn’t perfect, and I admire her for overcoming a number of challenges in her life—and yet she still manages to have hope.  That’s why she continues to bake, why she continues to leave the window open when she’s making her cakes:  she has hope for a better future and hope for reconnecting with someone she thought she’d lost forever.  It’s heart-warming and wonderful.

And I loved it.

I also thought Rebecca Lowman, who narrated the novel, did a splendid job of distinguishing between characters and reviving the cadence of a small North Carolina town.  She helped breathe life into the characters, playing upon the drawl and twang sometimes found in Appalachia, and she did a wonderful job of pacing the story, allowing it to unfold naturally.  While the story was sometimes strange—and, sometimes, I didn’t always enjoy the characters Ms. Lowman played—I found I enjoyed it overall.  It’s a sweet novel with a decent narrator, intriguing (and, occasionally, baffling) characters, and a beautiful little love story thrown into the mix.

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