Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Girl Who Chased the Moon, by Sarah Addison Allen

This one lost a whole rating point simply because the title had no connection to the story.  I hate that.

Various spoilers abound, so be warned.

I borrowed the book from my local public library, and some previous borrower had done me a huge favor:  She (or he) had neatly underlined in pencil all the instances the author referred to a character tucking her loose hair behind her ear.  There were a lot of them.  Enough to be annoying.  While I chalk part of that up to lazy writing, I put more burden on the editors.  This wasn't a self-published Kindle book; the Bantam editors should have done a better job.

The four or five typos didn't bother me as much as the business with the hair.

The writing style struck me as more suited to a juvenile or young adult book, and maybe this would be classified as YA.  Some of the themes were definitely more adult, I thought, but I'm not an expert on what constitutes young adult versus adult fiction.  I just thought the author's style was choppy and sometimes awkward.  At least for me.

Emily Benedict's mother Dulcie has recently died, so Emily heads to Mullaby, North Carolina, to live with Dulcie's father, Vance Shelby.  Vance, who is eight feet tall, lives on the ground floor of the old family mansion.  He welcomes Emily and tells her to take whichever room she wishes; she settles in her mother's old room.

It's the summer before her senior year in high school, and though Emily's education has been received at the Roxley School for Girls that her mother founded in Boston, she has no apprehension about meeting people in Mullaby, a small Southern town notable for its barbecue restaurants.  Within her first few days in Mullaby, Emily meets Win Coffey, a young man her own age, and Julia Winterson, who was a classmate of her mother's.  Julia owns one of the restaurants and bakes cakes for it.  She also takes Emily under her wing, so to speak.

So far, so good.  The characters were three-dimensionally solid, if quirky, and I didn't have any difficulty making them come alive in my mind.

BUT --

Everyone seems to have secrets that they aren't willing to share.  Some of the secrets involve what might be called magic.  This would be fine except that there's no reason given for not sharing these secrets.

Now, here's the big spoiler.

Emily's mother Dulcie had a romance going with Win Coffey's uncle, Logan Coffey.  Dulcie forced Logan to publicly divulge his family's deep, dark, horrible secret, after which Logan committed suicide.  The Coffey family blamed Dulcie for Logan's suicide, but now everyone in Mullaby knew the Coffey family secret.

No one, however, would tell Emily.  Her grandfather warned her to stay away from Win; Win's father wouldn't let the two teens see each other.  Julia knew the secret, but wouldn't tell Emily.  And even though he knew everyone in town knew the secret -- and therefore could tell Emily at any time -- Win procrastinated about telling her.  No one in town ever spoke of it, even though Win and his father Morgan were always out and about around town.

And what's the secret?  Why is it that the Coffey men have to be in the house before dark and can't go out again until the sun comes up?  Are they vampires or werewolves?

No, not vampires or werewolves.  They have a genetic disorder that makes them glow in the moonlight.  Yeah.

This was just so silly.  And everyone knew!  So what was the big deal?

Well, then there's the business with the wallpaper in Emily's bedroom.  It keeps changing.  First it was just pretty violets.  Then it turned into fluttering butterflies.  Then glittering stars.  And Emily never questions this?  Never asks her grandfather?  Never says anything to her friend Julia?  Nor is there ever explanation given as to why the magical wallpaper matters.

Julia, the baker of cakes, has her own little bit of magic, and hers is probably the best integrated to the story.  I liked Julia, and I liked her story of unrequited love, heartbreak, emotional abandonment, and finally her ambition as an adult to succeed against all odds.  Her backstory was also the most believable, the most uplifting, and the twist to her stepmother's revelation was the most emotionally satisfying part of the whole book.

If not for Julia, I might have given up on the book at about the 30% point.  Julia had emotional baggage.  The teen-aged Emily, though she had gone through a lot of emotional turbulence in her young life, didn't have the angst necessary to pull this reader in.  Julia did.

The silliness of the "magic" aspects of the book pulled its rating down another full point, but there was still another weakness that I couldn't get past: The author had difficulty making her male characters multi-dimensional.  Win was so sweet, and his insta-love for Emily was so precious.  His father was just the opposite, all bitterness and anger.  Even Grandfather Vance, the "gentle giant," was more a caricature than a character -- and his gigantism had no real relevance to the story.  The author just seemed to have stumbled across the fact of the early 20th century giant -- who died at age 22 and height of almost nine feet -- and decided, oh, this is cool, so I'll have a giant in my story.

Only Julia's love interest, the handsome Sawyer Alexander, was more than a cardboard figure.  He, too, had emotional baggage that developed slowly and carefully through the narrative, and his little bit of magic was, along with Julia's, crafted to be integral to the tale rather than grafted on.

Overall, a light, pleasant read with little substance other than Julia's story.  I wouldn't offer a positive recommendation, but it's not terrible, either.

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