Hi everyone. I'm really excited about this post, because the book I'll be talking about is one by an author that I've never read before, but whose writing I've fallen in love with. It's the kind of excitement I usually experience when I discover new music artists that I want to follow. With books, the feeling is much rarer.
The book is The Girl Who Chased the Moon, and the author is Sarah Addison Allen. I actually came across this book while browsing the Barnes and Noble sometime last year. What caught my eye was the book's title, since I adore the moon, and its cover, which you see above and will see again below in just a bit. But I ended up not getting it for reasons I can't even remember - and didn't get it until I stumbled across it in person during my trip to San Diego.
And I'm so glad I did. I'm normally a mystery/horror reader, so I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. But the book's synopsis captivated me - more on that later - by presenting a world both realistic and fantastical, and the story was one I enjoyed thoroughly. I finished the book yesterday and was eager to review it as soon as possible so that I could begin reading a second novel by Allen that I just purchased on Friday!
The Girl Who Chased the Moon (2010) is Allen's third of four published novels - with a fifth expected to be published by February of next year. It follows 17-year old Emily Benedict as she arrives at the unusual Mullaby, North Carolina to live with her maternal grandfather, an 8-foot giant named Vance Shelby, after the passing of her mother, Dulcie.
|LEFT: Front cover.|
RIGHT: Back cover.
Above are pictures of the front and back of the novel - and I must say that this was one of the first books whose title and cover grabbed my attention so effectively. The color scheme is lovely, and the moon, trees, and butterflies give the cover a mysterious atmosphere - one that compliments the story well. The synopsis flatters the story well too, as it successfully features bits of the magic in Mullaby that make the story so captivating. Excellent job on the synopsis.
The above is a zoom-in on the publishing/cost information that is on the back cover. The publisher is Bantam Books - a division of Random House - and the cost at $15, well, is pricey for a paperback, in my opinion, though it is on par with most publishers today.
Anyway, onto the story. There are two strengths in this book that stand out to me the most: the relationships between characters - both familial and romantic - and the setting of Mullaby, North Carolina.
There are a few relationships that develop in this story: Vance's and Emily's, Emily's and Dulcie's, Emily's and Win's, Julia's and Sawyer's, and even Julia's and Stella's. Vance, who shutdown after the death of Lily, his wife, learns to be open with his granddaughter Emily. Emily learns about her mother's past, which is dramatically different from the mother she knew during her life before Mullaby. Emily and Win learn that they can accept each other despite town norms, and eventually fall in love. Julia reveals a truth to Sawyer - her high school love who broke her heart - and the two finally come to terms with their hidden feelings for each other. And Julia soon learns that truth about home and friendship - the latter being revealed to her through the concern and interest of Stella. All of these relationships are brought to life through the course of the novel, which is magical in itself.
As for the setting of Mullaby, North Carolina, everything is mysterious and fantastical. Allen does an outstanding job of setting the story in a concrete place - a place with great forestry, tightly-knit community, and a love for barbecue. But aside from these realistic characteristics, there are the Mullaby lights - lights that jump around the town at night - the idea of seeing, sensing, and being able to follow the smell of cake, and wallpaper that reflects the mood of the person sleeping in its room. These are many of the aspects touched on in the book's synopsis - details so magical that I couldn't help but be interested in knowing more.
Besides the magical setting, Mullaby has a very warm, intimate feel to it. I've been to North Carolina once before in my life and remember how peaceful the neighborhood my friend lived in was. Allen brings this setting to life through both the traditions of the town - such as the barbecue festival - and the southern talk and mannerisms of the characters. Allen is simply an amazing writer.
I mentioned before that this book caught my attention partially through its title, with the inclusion of 'moon.' The moon does indeed play a large role in this novel, and I appreciate Allen's way of accomplishing that. There is the moonlight's power to make the men of Coffey descent glow, there is Dulcie's bracelet - given to her by Logan Coffey when they were lovers - with the moon charm, and there is Julia's own words that make a clear reference to the book's title. Julia is actually my favorite character in this novel - her story with Sawyer is the kind of romance that I enjoy reading the most - and her words about chasing the moon are my favorite passage from the entire story, so I thought I'd share it with you:
"' There's this promise of happiness out there. I know it. I even feel it sometimes. But it's like chasing the moon - just when I think I have it, it disappears into the horizon. I grieve and try to move on, but then the damn thing comes back the next night, giving me hope of catching it all over again.'" (194)
That thought of chasing happiness is one that resonates with me, and I find the way Allen crafts this thought around the moon beautiful.
In terms of weak points in the novel, I did have a better feel for Julia's character than Emily's for a while, which was awkward considering Emily is not only one of the main characters, but perhaps the most important character considering her position at the book's very beginning. I also found myself more emotionally attentive to Julia's relationship with Sawyer - which felt mature due to its earlier failures - than Emily's young love with Win, which seems characteristic of a teenage novel (especially considering their 'shadowing' of Dulcie and Logan's young love).
My last disappointment with this book (though slight) was its - dare I say it - ENDING! As predictable as it may be, I was thrilled that Julia's daughter Maddie, who she put up for adoption after her heartbreak with Sawyer (Maddie's father), does indeed have her father's sweet sense and finds her way back to her birth parents through Julia's cakes. What killed me was the fact that the story ends right when Maddie is about to enter Julia's barbecue.
I remember reading on Sarah Addison Allen's website that many people hoped for a sequel to this novel, but at first I didn't understand why. Even when I do love a book's characters, I usually don't care for a sequel because the story ends so nicely, with all burning questions answered, that there's no need to complicate anything. But with this novel, the interest in a sequel makes so much more sense. I want to know what happens when Julia and Sawyer see that their daughter found them!
Oh, that sounds so whiny. I'm sorry. :(
In any case, yay, that's everything! Overall I highly recommend this book if you have an interest in down-to-earth relationships with a touch of magical setting. Now I need to figure out if I should read the new novel I have of Allen's, The Sugar Queen, or not because, as most Stephen King fans know by now, this week is the release of the sequel to King's iconic novel The Shining, called Doctor Sleep, and mine has already been preordered. To be honest, though, I miss the feeling of being in the beautifully mysterious world of The Girl Who Chased the Moon, so I might have to get through Allen's other novel first.
Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by, and do feel free to share your thoughts on The Girl Who Chased the Moon, or Sarah Addison Allen as a writer, in the comments below. 'Til next time! ('<>')>