Garden Spells ~ Sarah Addison Allen

  • Title: Garden Spells
  • Author: Sarah Addison Allen
  • Genre: Magical Realism
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.…
The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.
A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.
When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.
Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own.

I loved it. This is magic realism at its best: luminous prose, enchanting heroines, and a quiet, unassuming tale. At first glance, the plot is simple: it’s a story of two magically-gifted sisters and their reconciliation in the old house. But so many interweaving undercurrents run beneath the surface: of being different, of taking charge of your life, of female courage, childhood beliefs, and adulthood conviction. And of course, it’s a story of love in all its incarnation.

Claire Waverly operates a catering business and flavors her dishes with herbs and flowers from her magical garden. The Waverly flowers are unusual; they influence all who eat them. Those flowers can clarify or baffle, spark memories or encourage forgetfulness.

Claire has long ago embraced her abilities, and the entire town accepted it too, but Claire has never learned to trust. Although she is an extraordinary cook and a smart businesswoman, deep inside she is still a frightened, lonely child, unsure of her welcome but wanting to belong.

It was how her grandmother always acted at the thought of doing something purely social, as if she wanted to curl up like a cutworm until the threat passed. Work was fine. Claire didn’t socialize when she worked—she communicated. She said what needed to be said or she didn’t say anything at all. Unfortunately, this didn’t translate well into a social setting. It made her seem rude and standoffish, when it was only a sincere and desperate effort not to do or say anything foolish.

It takes the extraordinary events of the novel to teach Claire that love could be trusted: a sisterly love and a man’s love.

Unlike Claire, her younger sister Sidney was a bright, popular girl in high school, but she left her hometown ten years ago for adventures in the wide world. Now, on the run from her abusive husband, she returns with her five-year-old daughter Bay. The old Waverly home is the only place that could shelter Sidney and her daughter, the only place she feels safe … if only Claire would let her in: both in the house and in her heart.

Overcoming the painful memories of their unfriendly childhood and a separation of ten years, the sisters tread carefully around each other, learning to love and trust.

The novel throbs with emotions, both overt and hushed. As I read, I felt myself transported there. I emphasized with Claire, skittish and scared in the face of love. I commiserated with her lovelorn beau Tyler, who radiated purple sparks of unfulfilled desire every night, because Claire wouldn’t return his affection. My heart squeezed with fear, when Sidney recalled that her enraged husband might be looking for her. I smiled at Bay’s garden-inspired daydreams. And I rejoiced every time Evanelle, a distant cousin of the Waverly sisters, appears on the scene.

This secondary character, an old widow with a quirk, adds an ironic, heart-warming nuance to the story. Out of the entire population of the town, she is my favorite. Evanelle gives people things. She doesn’t know why, but she knows they will need those things soon. I wish I had such a distant cousin in my family tree.

A delightful novel.


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