By: Sarah Addison Allen
The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.
A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.
When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.
Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own…
Sarah Addison Allen’s books should come with a warning at the front: never start reading her books the night before if you have somewhere to be the following day. Once you start reading her books, you never want to put them down! I greatly enjoyed her other novel, The Girl Who Chased the Moon (review) so I sought to check out her other works. Contains some spoilers ahead!
Like The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Garden Spells is steeped in magical realism, centering around the Waverlys’ garden (although other inhabitants of the town also have some unique talents of their own). Each plant that grows in the garden has its own attributes that come out especially when mixed in with food, something that Claire specialises in. The apple tree is particularly interesting, its history going far back, as well as amusing, having a life of its own complete with its own personality (I was especially amused when it started throwing its apples on whoever was in the backyard–I was even more amused when the young girl Bay started throwing the apples back at the tree; girl’s got some spunk). The garden and the town of Bascom is an enchanting place and as a reader you really feel a part of the relaxed routine of the overall setting.
You are introduced to almost all of the principal characters in the novel from the first page as well as their respective problems, all of them unique and relatable in some way depending on your own personal experience. All of their stories–Claire, Sydney, Tyler, Fred, Henry, Emma, Hunter John–explore different themes such as leaving town to explore the world, fear of change, first love, choices made and second chances. Unlike The Girl Who Chased the Moon however (and I don’t mean to use this book often for comparative means but it makes this review easier), the exploration of these themes are a little uneven. I mentioned Tyler in the mix of characters but he did not really have his own individual storyline beyond his interest and connection to Claire. Henry’s story also did not emerge until a bit more than halfway through the novel, which I thought was a little weird because it seemed all of the characters were already established within the first few chapters of the novel. Emma and Hunter John had a storyline going on but the ending was left ambiguous, which was a little unsatisfying if only because everyone else had their respective stories tied up nicely at the end.
The heart of the story really lies with Claire and Sydney, the two Waverly sisters who couldn’t be any more different. Their story began apart, each dealing with their own respective issues concerning each other and their own lives. Over the course of the novel, they learn to overcome their issues concerning the nature of their family and their own personal insecurities: Sydney learns to trust her sister Claire and tells the truth of why she finally came home after so many years while Claire overcomes her abandonment issues and learns to let people in. Bay’s presence helped in smoothing over the sisters’ initial interactions with each other and Tyler’s story also offered a way for the sisters to become closer. There is one other storyline that also helped draw the Waverly sisters together again but you’ll have to read it yourself to find out what that was ^_~
Overall, Garden Spells is a magical read that is absolutely captivating from start to finish. The characters were wonderful in their own way and you’re compelled to keep reading and find out what will happen to all of them. This was her first novel, which was a little evident in terms of the depth of some of the individual storylines but nothing too distracting or anything. Overall, I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a light read and enjoy novels involving magical realism.