Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Series: Waverley Family #1
Published: January 1st, 2007
286 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Contemporary women’s fiction/magical realism
Acquired this book: From the library
Warning: May contain spoilers
The women of the Waverley family -- whether they like it or not -- are heirs to an unusual legacy, one that grows in a fenced plot behind their Queen Anne home on Pendland Street in Bascom, North Carolina. There, an apple tree bearing fruit of magical properties looms over a garden filled with herbs and edible flowers that possess the power to affect in curious ways anyone who eats them.
For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother's unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town's constraints. Using her grandmother's mystical culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business -- and a carefully controlled, utterly predictable life -- upon the family's peculiar gift for making life-altering delicacies: lilac jelly to engender humility, for instance, or rose geranium wine to call up fond memories. Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire's routine existence upside down. With Sydney's homecoming, the magic that the quiet caterer has measured into recipes to shape the thoughts and moods of others begins to influence Claire's own emotions in terrifying and delightful ways.
As the sisters reconnect and learn to support one another, each finds romance where she least expects it, while Sydney's child, Bay, discovers both the safe home she has longed for and her own surprising gifts. With the help of their elderly cousin Evanelle, endowed with her own uncanny skills, the Waverley women redeem the past, embrace the present, and take a joyful leap into the future.
I don’t often re-read books, especially ones I read before I started book blogging. Since I started the blog, my tastes have changed so much, plus I’ve become a much more critical reader. I’m always afraid books I loved a few years ago won’t hold up in my mind and it’ll taint the way I once felt about them.
When I heard Sarah Addison Allen had written a sequel to Garden Spells, a book I read and loved several years ago, I was excited. I remembered Garden Spells fondly, and decided to reread it before First Frost came out, despite my fear of it not holding up. I loved this book as much now as I did when I first read it. Beautifully written, romantic, bittersweet, and full of magic and whimsy, Garden Spells remains one of my favourite books.
Everyone in Bascom, North Carolina, knows there’s something strange about the Waverleys. They’re drawn to them as much as they’re repelled. Each Waverley has her own kind of magic, although most people don’t see it as magic, they see it as something peculiar. Claire has a special way with food; Sydney has a gift with hair; Evanelle has to give people things they’ll need, even though she doesn’t know why they’ll need them; and Bay instinctively knows where things (and people) belong. I love how the characters stories were woven together, and how we even got glimpses into other side characters’ lives when they were affected by the Waverley women.
Magical realism is still something that fascinates me. Garden Spells is contemporary - set in our world with real people going through real things - but there are these bits of magic woven throughout. And what’s amazing about that magic is that it’s done in a way that’s completely believable. I think it helps if you have an active imagination and an open mind, but I never questioned Claire’s gifts or Sydney’s or Bay’s or Evanelle’s. Sarah Addison Allen has a magic of her own with her ability to write things that are fantastical but also believable.
This book explores love in its many forms. It shows the gritty, painful side of family, but also the unbreakable bonds that come from truly understanding yourself and your kin. You get to see the triumphs and failures people experience, the difficult parts of life, as well as the good parts. Garden Spells is the perfect book if you’re looking for an escape from reality. This enchanting and unique book draws you in, tugs on your heartstrings, and makes you believe in magic.
Have you read Garden Spells? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Have you read any of Sarah's other books? What are some of your favourite magical realism books? Let's talk here or on Twitter!