Review: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: August 28, 2007
Source: Personal Copy
Anyone who has ever flown on an airplane can attest to the fact that reading without interruptions is next to impossible. While waiting to board, there are people rushing by, airline representatives practically screaming announcements, and CNN blaring its headline news. All that before you even get on a plane. Once inside, there's always a screaming infant, a child playing video games with the volume on high, or a loud talker sitting right behind you. These are the reasons why I like to choose easy, fluffy reads for my travels, and why I picked Garden Spells in particular for my NYC trip.
Bascom, NC is home to the Waverlys, a family who has been a part of the community for generations. Each family member posseses a different magical skill, and must protect the garden behind the family's giant Queen Anne home that contains an apple tree whose fruit, when eaten, reveals the most important event that will occur in that person's life. These magical elements have made the Waverlys outcasts among the other residents of Bascom.
From the very first chapter, Garden Spells had me captivated with a world of believable magic, a world that makes you want to believe in the possibilities. The supernatural elements are kept to a minimal, yet integral part of the story, and Allen doesn't rely on them completely or let them overtake the plot and devolve into paranormal territory. One thing that does bug me is how reminiscent the plot is to Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic, without the darker tone. Check out the Amazon descriptions to see what I mean. However, once invested in the characters, I wasn't constantly aware of the similarities. Allen's characters are charming and lovable, yet a little simplistic. I felt that the characters evolved, but only in the one dimension that was shown. While having multiple characters narrate chapters helped create a more rounded viewpoint, I felt it didn't allow the growth that sticking to one or two narrators could have provided. I wish Allen had focused more on Bay's thoughts and expanded her character, providing the interesting insight of a child. However, there is something very uplifting about watching flawed characters discover themselves, and I think that was one of the strengths of the novel.
Overall, I felt that Allen focused a lot on relationships. Every character in the book either started, ended, rekindled, or redefined a relationship with someone. If you want to try and get literary, then I guess the whole Tree of Knowledge/forbidden fruit could be a biblical/Genesis reference, but I don't feel like this book needs such a deep reading to be enjoyed. Garden Spells is low on complexity with a pretty predictable plot. While the writing wasn't stellar, I felt a genuine sense of warm and fuzzy feelings while reading, which provided a nice break from the heavier fiction I've been reading lately. Basically, it is overall fluff, but if you can accept the fact that this is pure escapism, then you'll be able to embrace the book and enjoy it so much more.
I'll finish this off by sharing my favorite quote from the book. Such a true statement.
When you're happy for yourself, it fills you. When you're happy for someone else, it pours over.I think these two sentences help summarize what I took away from this book, and help describe that uplifting feeling I had while reading.