Friday, September 9, 2011

This blog is for more than homework

Although it doesn't seem like it now, I am using this blog for more than just homework (speaking of which, I have another class that requires a blog. It's journalism, so the theme of "stories" I'm using still applies and I really don't want to make another blog for that class, so congrats, you get to hear my thoughts on journalism.)

But what I wanted to do when I decided to start a blog was review books I'm currently reading and describe what I like about them. I usually read YA, but this week I read a couple adult books on my mom's recommendation. They were "Garden Spells" and "The Girl Who Chased the Moon" by Sarah Addison Allen. Very well-written books, and the plots are enticing as well.

Both books take place in small Southern towns with histories of magic and small-town dynamics. "Garden Spells" is about a family, the Waverlys, who have special gifts and a magical garden. The edible flowers from the garden can affect people's moods and apples from the apple tree are reputed to show you the biggest event in your life if you eat them. Claire, the older Waverly sister, has a catering business where she uses the edible flowers. She lives alone and likes the constancy of it. Her sister Sydney, who has been roaming the country, comes back home with her daughter Bay.

"The Girl Who Chased the Moon" is about a teenage girl named Emily, who, when her mother dies, goes to live in a small Southern town with her eight-foot-tall grandfather. She finds out that when her mother lived there she did something the town cannot forgive her for. Whatever it was, it's connected to strange lights Emily sees at night and the mysterious Coffey family.

What I liked about these books was how Allen ties magic firmly into the story without being overt. In "Garden Spells" there are times what seems like a metaphor turns out to be literal. For example, one line says, "Claire had added flowers to the garden to give her something to do at night when she was so wound up that frustration singed the edge of her nightgown and she set tiny fires with her fingertips." Seems figurative, but I found out later that Claire actually does burn things when she's antsy. The whole book is full of tiny hints of something strange and beautiful, and it pulls me in without me really knowing it.

In "The Girl Who Chased the Moon" the magic is a little more overt, but not much. There's mostly symmetry between Emily and her mother that gives the sense of something more. Allen also builds the mystery about the lights to the point that I couldn't sleep until I knew what they were. Also, the book describes cakes in such detail I want to bake one really, really bad. If you read it, you'll understand.

The subtlety of Allen's use of mystery and magic was what made this feel real to me, oddly enough. Magic is just part of the town's history in both stories and everyone accepts the strange. The small hints give both stories a numinous quality that reminds me of the feeling I get from reading Louis Sachar's "Holes" (also an awesome book; maybe I'll discuss that one later).

If anyone knows of books that have that subtle, unearthly feeling, I'd love to know. These are the kind of books that stick in a person's mind. They're also the kind of books I'd like to one day write.

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