Senior Book Discussion: Garden Spells
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Two gifted sisters draw on their talents to belatedly forge a bond and find their ways in life in Allen's easygoing debut novel. Thirty-four-year-old Claire Waverley manifests her talent in cooking; using edible flowers, Claire creates dishes that "affect the eater in curious ways." But not all Waverley women embrace their gifts; some, including Claire's mother, escape the family's eccentric reputation by running away. She abandoned Claire and her sister when they were young. Consequently, Claire has remained close to home, unwilling to open up to new people or experiences. Claire's younger sister, Sydney, however, followed in their mother's footsteps 10 years ago and left for New York, and after a string of abusive, roustabout boyfriends, returns to Bascom, N.C., with her five-year-old daughter, Bay. As Sydney reacquaints herself with old friends and rivals, she discovers her own Waverley magic. Claire, in turn, begins to open up to her sister and in the process learns how to welcome other possibilities. Though Allen's prose can lean toward the pedestrian and the romance subplots feel perfunctory, the blending of horticultural folklore, the supernatural and a big dollop of Southern flavor should find favor with a wide swath of readers.- Publishers Weekly
It’s refreshing to find a Southern novel that doesn’t depend on folksy humor or stereotypes but instead on the imaginative use of magical realism. Just buy it, read it, and recommend it to others . With enough grassroots buzz, Allen's mainstream debut (she's published romances under the nom de plume Katie Gallagher) could become a best seller. This captivating concoction, which has strong fairytale elements, is set in a small town in western North Carolina. The Waverley women have always had unusual talents, and newly reconciled half sisters Claire (a caterer) and Sydney (a hairdresser) are no exception. Sydney's five-year-old daughter, Bay, has the gift of knowing where things belong. Their elder cousin, Evanelle, has the gift of anticipation, compelled blindly to give items whose value is later revealed. The Waverleys also have an old tree whose apples are so special that a locked fence encloses their garden. To reveal much more about this charming story of love, fate, and family would be to dilute its magic. It's refreshing to find a Southern novel that doesn't depend on folksy humor or stereotypes but instead on the imaginative use of magical realism. Just buy it, read it, and recommend it to others. For any fiction collection. - Library Journal
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About the Author
• Aka—Katie Gallagher
• Birth—ca. 1972
• Where—Ashville, North Carolina, USA
• Education—B.A. in Literature, 1994
• Currently—lives in Asheville, North Carolina
Garden Spells didn't start out as a magical novel," writes Sarah Addison Allen. "It was supposed to be a simple story about two sisters reconnecting after many years. But then the apple tree started throwing apples and the story took on a life of its own... and my life hasn't been the same since."
North Carolina novelist Sarah Addison Allen brings the full flavor of her southern upbringing to bear on her fiction—a captivating blend of fairy tale magic, heartwarming romance, and small-town sensibility.
Born and raised in Asheville, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Allen grew up with a love of books and an appreciation of good food (she credits her journalist father for the former and her mother, a fabulous cook, for the latter). In college, she majored in literature—because, as she puts it, "I thought it was amazing that I could get a diploma just for reading fiction. It was like being able to major in eating chocolate."
After graduation in 1994, Allen began writing seriously. She sold a few stories and penned romances for Harlequin under the pen name Katie Gallagher; but her big break occurred in 2007 with the publication of her first mainstream novel, Garden Spells, a modern-day fairy tale about an enchanted apple tree and the family of North Carolina women who tend it. Booklist called Allen's accomplished debut "spellbindingly charming," and the novel became a BookSense pick and a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection.
The Sugar Queen followed in 2008 and The Girl Who Chased the Moon in 2009.
Since then, Allen has continued to serve heaping helpings of the fantastic and the familiar in fiction she describes as "Southern-fried magic realism." Clearly, it's a recipe readers are happy to eat up as fast as she can dish it out.
Garden Spells is set in North Carolina.
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1. If you believed you possessed the magical powers that Claire Waverley has inherited, how would you use them? What's the first thing you would do?
2. Could you be persuaded that certain plants have powers, as Claire describes and uses them? Does anything in your own experience suggest this possibility?
3. Claire believes all relationships are temporary, and does everything in her power to fight the pain this causes by ordering her life into predictable routines. Sydney's rebellious youth and history of dangerous, unstable affairs recklessly embraces the emotional turmoil Claire avoids. Whose approach to life resonates with you personally? Are their outlooks two sides of the same coin? In the course of the book, how are their attitudes transformed?
4. How do you explain Claire's attraction/repulsion to Tyler? Why do you think Claire sees violet sparks hovering around him the first time she meets him? What makes her eventually realize they are destined to be together?
5. Do you think a child can have the kind of insight and sensitivity that Bay demonstrates? Is a woman more likely to have it than a man? If yes, why?
6. The four Waverley women in this novel (Claire, Sydney, Bay, Evanelle) have special gifts. Which of the four gifts would you like to have? Why? How would you use it?
7. Fred Walker observes, "You are who you are, whether you like it or not, so why not like it?" Consider this statement in relation to the characters of the book, including Emma Clark, Hunter John Matteson, and Henry Hopkins.
8. A bite from an apple from the family tree inspired Lorelei Waverley's flight from Bascom, profoundly influencing the course of her daughters' lives. Would you have reacted in the same way to the knowledge the tree foretold? What alternatives did Lorelei have?
9. If you knew that biting into a Waverley apple would reveal your future, would you bite? Why or why not? (Questions issued by publisher.)