Sarah Addison Allen creates magic. As her beautifully fashioned words tumble across the pages, you know that within her soul is an enchantress, capable of crafting for her readers a place they have never been, yet a place where they have always lived. The Girl Who Chased the Moon is Allen’s third novel, and it is equally nothing like her first two and evocative of both. This allure is hers to dispense. From the very first chapter, where we meet Emily, to the last line where the story quixotically comes to an end, we are indeed enchanted.
The book begins as the story of Emily, unexpectedly orphaned and marooned in Mullaby, North Carolina. At 17, she is in that reminiscent teenaged space of knowing everything and nothing at the same time. Her grandfather is a mystery, as is the small Southern town, for her mother escaped her roots with a vengeance, leaving them for Emily to discover. Yet the heart and soul of the book is Julia Winterson, a 30-something woman whose essence is in abeyance, waiting for her tour of duty to be over in this little barbeque town so she can hare back to Baltimore and her “real” life.
As with Allen’s other novels, the book, and the town, are quirky, filled with eccentrics and secrets. For instance, Emily is bemused and stunned to discover that her grandfather is truly a gentle giant. Alone now, his wife and daughter dead, he tries hard to open his heart and his tumbledown house to his young granddaughter. Thus, the story begins, ensnaring the reader; there is no choice but to clutch the book, curl up in a comfortable chair, and follow the path the author has lain out.
As expected, the book has magical elements that remain unsolved until the end, yet the magic is different in each novel Allen writes. Here there are strange flickering lights at night in the woods, seemingly friendly, always unreachable and inexplicable. Slowly Emily discovers the bizarre elements of her new home (does the wallpaper really change spontaneously?) and the quirks of her neighbors. Julia’s heart is in her baking, for instance, and in each cake is an aroma of love, longing and hope. Whom is Julia trying to tempt? Moreover, will “they” heed the siren’s call of sugar and chocolate spun together in enthrallment?
Each character has a strong purpose in the storyline; there are no extraneous wanderers or useless fillers. There is Stella, Julia’s roommate and best friend, who tries to encourage Julia to cut loose, just a little, and Sawyer, who may seem peripheral to the plot but is essential. There are cruel teens, as there are in every small town, and peacemakers who strive to make a blend of the old and the new in a harmonious jumble. As in Allen’s other two novels, there exists an upper crust in the town, the founders and creators of the town’s stability. Nevertheless, enigmas abound, and it is up to both Julia and Emily to find answers for themselves, even as they are tangled up in webs of their own making.
Allen does not disappoint in this latest novel - the only drawback is the wait for the next book to appear. Even if you have not yet discovered her previous books (Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen), each is a stand-alone story, so you can start here and work your way backward, enjoying each title for the charm and delight it brings.