Title: Garden Spells
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Genre: Magical realism, contemporary fiction
Publisher: Bantam Discovery
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my own library
First line: Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood.
When I asked for help prioritizing my “I have to read this now” books, Garden Spells was one of the most frequently mentioned titles, and now I understand why. It is a magical book, one that is hard to categorize. It fits in “contemporary fiction,” because the characters live and breathe in today’s world – more specifically, in Bascom, North Carolina. It is also a book that has elements of magic in it – therefore I guess it qualifies as “speculative fiction” or “magical realism.” It doesn’t really matter, though – what you need to know is that it’s a wonderful read.
Claire Waverly lives in her home in Bascom, a house that used to belong to her grandmother. All of the Waverly women have magical gifts, and Claire is no exception. The plants in her garden have special powers, and she uses them to make unique recipes for her catering clients. She lives an isolated life; her only real friend is her cousin, Evanelle, also a Waverly.
Sydney Waverly left Bascom behind a long time ago. After many cities, jobs, and identities, she finds herself in Seattle with her daughter, Bay, looking for an escape from Bay’s abusive father. She heads back to the only home she’s ever known, and she and her daughter shake up her sister Claire’s safe little world.
I loved the characters in this book. Buttoned-up Claire – who is very closed and insular, in spite of her magic in the culinary arts. Sydney, who is looking for safety and a chance to start over. Evanelle, who is compelled to give people gifts that they don’t even know they need yet. Tyler, the artist who moves in next door to Claire and falls for her in a bad way. Henry, an old friend of Sydney’s who has been in love with her since they were children. And Bay, who has never understood the gift she has for always knowing where something – or someone – belongs.
The two sisters were never close; the reasons for their estrangement are deep and complicated, and it was touching to watch as they not only worked on their relationship with each other, but as each one helped the other stretch their wings and open their hearts. In spite of the fantastical elements to the story, the characters became so real to me that I missed them when the book ended. This will definitely not be the last Sarah Addison Allen book I read.