Apparently Sarah Addison Allen is pushing "magical realism" as far as it can go without actually writing fantasy. "The Girl Who Chased The Moon" is a lushly written little novel that injects the everyday world of a little Southern town with magic, mystery and alluring sweetness, and Allen's writing is absolutely exquisite.
After her mother's death, Emily is sent to live in the town of Mullaby with her reclusive giant of a grandfather Vance Shelby, and soon finds that Mullaby is a strange place -- strange ghostly lights dance outside the house, and the wallpaper's pattern shifts to fit her moods. She quickly makes friends with Julia, a woman with a troubled past who has a knack for baking magical cakes, and a quirky young man named Win Coffey.
But Emily soon discovers that not all the people of Mullaby are so friendly -- especially the wealthy Coffey family -- and that her do-gooding mother used to be the cruel queen-bee. Over the days that follow, old secrets are laid bare as Julia confronts the ghosts of her thwarted high school love, and Emily discovers what her mother did to the Coffey clan -- and what secrets she exposed to the world.
Ghostly dancing lights that return lost jewelry, wallpaper that changes with your moods, a gentle giant, and a family that never EVER goes out at night. "The Girl Who Chased the Moon" has a gentle, magical air that makes it feel a little like a fairy tale in a small Southern town, and Sarah Addison Allen injects that feeling into almost every part of the book.
Her prose is simply exquisite -- she has a knack for describing everyday things in a delightful way (a smell is described as trailing "like a kite's tail"), and there are many poignant moments in the pasts of the characters (especially the cute story about why Vance checks the dryer). The subplots are woven together nicely into a silken rope, but the most important are a pair of coming-of-age stories -- one for the newly-orphaned Emily and one for the older, troubled Julia.
The only thing that bothered me was the fact that NOBODY would tell Emily what the Coffey family secret is through the book (although she guesses "werewolves"). At least Allen lightly sprinkles the plot with clues.
They're nothing alike, but Emily and Julia are a good pair of heroines -- one is a rather nice, ordinary girl raised by a seemingly morally perfect mother, and the other is a former Troubled Teen who has carved out a new life for herself. Sawyer seems like a charming jerk at first, but eventually Allen peels back the layers to show a genuinely loving, fearful man, and Win is an enchanting, mystery boy who seems to be passively breaking away from the past.
Magic and moonlight (though I can't recall any magnolia blossoms) "The Girl Who Chased The Moon" fill this southern fairy tale. Utterly enchanting.