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From the Stacks: Finding a dollop of magical realism

From the Stacks: Finding a dollop of magical realism

August 11th, 2019 by Lisa Sanning, For the News Tribune in Features

For readers in search of a charming, light read with a dollop of magical realism, "Garden Spells" by Sarah Addison Allen will be a delight. Published in 2007, Missouri River Regional Library recently had to replace its well-loved, well-worn copy, which is how I came across it, having missed it when it first came out.

Bascom, North Carolina, is a charming little town, and most of the families who live there are known for some quirky family trait — none more so than the female Waverleys, the last two of whom are Claire Waverley, and her elderly aunt, Evanell. Claire's grandmother and her mother are both dead, and her sister Sydney fled the town and the Waverley name, while still a teenager.

Claire, living a mostly solitary existence in the home she inherited from her grandmother, has nonetheless built a successful catering business because her neighbors know the food she prepares is quite special.

Taught to cook by her beloved grandmother, Claire, who was quite happy to embrace the Waverley name and the abilities that come along with it, has also inherited her grandmother's magical gift for combining food with the plants and flowers grown in the very unique garden behind the tall, locked fence in her backyard.

Before Sydney was born, Claire and her mother had lived a nomadic life, with Claire sleeping in the car while her mother flirted and picked up the worst sorts of men in bars. Finding herself pregnant with Sydney when Claire was 6, their mother headed back to Bascom so Sydney could have a real home. At least that's Claire's memory, and it led to much resentment on her part toward Sydney. It's why she excluded Sydney from the time she spent with their grandmother in the kitchen and the garden.

Eventually, their mother returned to her wild ways, abandoning both girls and leaving them to be brought up by their grandmother.

Growing up in Bascom, Sydney tries hard to distance herself from the Waverley name and the unusual talents that come with it. She just wants to be seen as normal and seems to have mostly succeeded until the day she graduates from high school when her high school boyfriend breaks her heart. She follows in her mother's footsteps, running away from Bascom and straight into trouble with questionable men. Eventually though, desperation forces her back to Bascom.

"Garden Spells" is essentially about a broken family trying to mend itself and the love that makes it possible. The possibility of a romance or two is a bonus as is Aunt Evanelle, whose special Waverley talent is wonderfully charming. This book is recommended for those who enjoy family dramas with heart and humor.

The sequel to "Garden Spells," "First Frost" is also on the shelf at Missouri River Regional Library.

Lisa Sanning is the adult services librarian at Missouri River Regional Library.