Reviewed by Ambrea
Willa Jackson has spent much of her life in Walls of Water, North Carolina, living down her family’s reputation of genteel poverty. She works at a sporting goods store downtown with her friend, Rachel, who has the distinction of being a coffee connoisseur, and she lives a simple life with very little mystery or adventure (much to her chagrin). But with the resurrection of the Blue Ridge Madam, a sprawling mansion built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather during the town’s heyday, and the grisly discovery of a skeleton on the property, Willa must face her family history head-on if she wants to banish the ghosts that have haunted her family for generations. Together with Paxton Osgood, a do-gooder socialite of the very prominent Osgood family, Willa will uncover strange and terrifying secrets about Walls of Water—and forge unshakable bonds of friendship.
I loved listening to The Peach Keeper. It reminded me a great deal of Garden Spells and The Girl Who Chased the Moon, but it has its own unique characters—although a few familiar faces do make an appearance—and its own unique story. It has much the same flavor of Sarah Addison Allen’s other novels: a quirky southern town, small hints of magic, complex mother-daughter relationships, and a deep sense of family and tradition that influences many of the thoughts, feelings, and actions of characters.
Like Allen’s previous novels, The Peach Keeper is weighty with history. Specifically, it focuses on the turbulent past of the Jackson and Osgood families—and, more importantly, the unshakable bond held by Willa and Paxton’s grandmothers, Georgie and Agatha—as they clashed throughout the history of Walls of Water. It’s a complex story with finely detailed characters, deep family roots, and subtle hints of magic that paint a rich tapestry of loss and love.
I enjoyed the way Allen beautifully describes the Appalachian Mountains. In Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, and The Girl Who Chased the Moon, readers are introduced to the mountains of southern Appalachia and have the opportunity to get a taste of the region. However, in The Peach Keeper, I was able to get an even better glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains and it’s a beautiful sight to behold. Since I’m familiar with the Blue Ridge Mountains and the surrounding region, I was inordinately pleased by Allen’s descriptions of the mountains and her fictional town, Walls of Water. It’s a breathtaking location that feels right at home in the mountains I love, and I was incredibly excited by her reference to landmarks I knew and descriptions I recognized.
It was unexpectedly thrilling.
I also enjoyed the characters. It’s wonderful to see Willa and Paxton’s relationship develop, to see a reflection of their grandmother’s relationship in their newly budding friendship. I thought it was interesting to see how their lives unfolded and intertwined. Moreover, I enjoyed seeing how they handled the separate romantic interests that crop up in their lives. Love and excitement is the last thing Willa is looking for with Colin, and Paxton is struggling to keep the status quo steady between herself and her best friend, Sebastian. Their relationships are complicated—Will trying to live down her past, Paxton trying to preserve her dearest friendship and escape her mother’s shadow—but it’s refreshing to see them confront their dilemmas head-on, to see them work through the everyday struggles of their lives to see their own self-worth.
Truthfully, I enjoyed watching them grow, figure things out, fall in love—and just live their lives. It’s almost sickly sweet, I have to admit, but it’s all worth it for the feeling that everything worked out all right in the end.
However, I will note that The Peach Keeper feels a little darker than Allen’s other novels. I mean, sure, Julian is a particularly terrifying villain in The Sugar Queen and domestic abuse is front and center in Garden Spells, but most of Allen’s stories feel lighter, like you know that things will all work out in the end. The Peach Keeper, on the other hand, has a darker undertone to it that influences much of the novel and makes it, in my opinion, a more serious novel. Although it begins with Georgie and Agatha’s ordeal in 1936, the pall of their respective terror and remorse doesn’t really dissipate. The violence feels fresh, more palpable, more pervasive, especially with the ghost of Tucker Devlin hanging over the story, which gives it a much different feeling than Allen’s other works.