“Living down your own past was hard enough. You shouldn’t have to live down someone else’s.” (pg. 14)
People in Mullaby, North Carolina are living in the past – despite the novel’s setting in the modern day. They’re living in the past literally, by continuing to reside in the same town and in the same homes where they grew up, as well as emotionally, by remaining stuck to old memories and old hurts and old loves. Theirs is a collective grip on a quirky kind of nostalgia and a trip back in time where going home again means confronting the ghosts living right next door.
I loved the premise of this novel, just as I have with Sarah Addison Allen’s other two books Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen. While I’m not one for the popular vampire and fantasy genres, magical realism done in a certain way has a certain appeal to me. It’s one of those things that I know it when I see it, and from what I’ve seen of Sarah Addison Allen’s work over the past three books, it is something that she has a talent for and does extremely well.
The plot in The Girl Who Chased the Moon centers around 17 year old Emily Benedict. Following her mother’s death, Emily moves to Mullaby to live with her maternal grandfather Vance Shelby, who at 8′ tall is a giant living alone on the first floor of a large home. Emily takes up residence in her mother’s former bedroom, a room where the wallpaper changes due to the whims of the presence living within.
Family histories are intertwined in Mullaby, especially with the Shelby and the Coffey families. Naturally, Emily is drawn to Win Coffey, sparking the ire of their older relatives who still harbor resentment over incidents and times long gone. Through her interactions with Win, as well as local restauranteur and baker Julia (who knew Emily’s mother) and local studmuffin Sawyer Alexander, Emily begins to put together the untold pieces of her mother’s past. Meanwhile, Julia and Sawyer have their own ghosts from their younger years to sort out.
“Your peers when you’re a teenager will always be the keepers of your embarrassment and regret. It was one of life’s great injustices, that you can move on and be accomplished and happy, but the moment you see someone from high school you immediately become the person you were then, not the person you are now.” (pg. 102)
Oh, hell yeah. Absolutely. This is a premise that has worked in other novels and infused with Sarah Addison Allen’s unique blend of magical realism, works in this one … up to a point. Unfortunately, as much as I liked the creative elements, I found parts of the plot a little tedious (like, let’s just move on from this death grip on the past already!). I also didn’t connect as strongly with the characters as I’d hoped. I should have felt more sympathy for Julia and Emily, and even Win, but … I didn’t. (Win seemed especially elusive to me, and whether that was because of his secrets and demons, I don’t know. He just wasn’t as defined as he should have been. At least, in my opinion.)
And Sawyer, too. There’s a lot of description about his Adonis-like good looks, and at times, that’s over the top. That’s distracting and off-putting to me as a reader, just as there were frequent references to Emily’s hair – her tucking it behind her ears, or Julia brushing it out of her eyes, and even the pink streak in Julia’s hair. There was too much talk about hair that it was enough to be noticeable and in the end, I’m not sure if these details to the excess that they were used were important enough to be emphasized so frequently.
The Girl Who Chased the Moon is the third novel by Sarah Addison Allen, and she clearly has a formula that works. (I liked Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen much, much more than this one.) But it’s a formula that I, at least, need to be in the mood for. You come to a Sarah Addison Allen novel knowing what to expect, which is fine.
Overall, this was a “meh” book for me, but one that proved to be the light, escapism type of reading that is hallmark of a Sarah Addison Allen novel.
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copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.