The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

8517332People really love their Sarah Addison Allen. Rapid fans gobble up her particular brand of southern comfort with unadulterated joy. For these reasons, I wasn’t shocked when The Girl Who Chased the Moon won our February round of voting. We have some Allen followers among our ranks here at Atlanta’s Lady Litwits.

Allen’s signature magical realism is woven through a tale of two women. Emily, a teenager who has lost her mother and moved back to her mom’s hometown to live with the grandfather she never knew she had. Julia, a woman who has reluctantly moved home after escaping the rejection and emotional distress of small town life. Mullaby, North Carolina is there to welcome them with wallpapered rooms that change with your mood, lights that glow and dance underneath the moon, and the local neighborhood friendly giant. There is also cake.

I’d never read any Allen before this book. But it went down like sugar. So easy and light and smooth. She paints an eerily accurate picture of what small town Southern life is like. The oppressive feeling of not fitting into what often seems to be a very singular acceptance was honest and moving. The group loved Julia and her story far more than the insta-love teenage affair between Emily and Win. We connected to Julia’s emotional struggles and journey from troubled youth to the well-adjusted thirty-something. I suspect this has something to do with Julia being more our peer than Emily.

We did, however, wish that Julia’s story had been given more time, more depth. We wanted to see all the dirty in between times where she was in therapy and recovering from the self-abuse of her teenage years. It’s great that she’d been able to recover and move on, but we wanted to see and feel that struggle alongside Julia. In fact, that’s how we felt about the whole thing. We wanted more. MORE. Allen is a great writer and there are nuggets of something really special about her characters, but the book’s length and density never quite get to the substance we so ardently hoped for.

Most of us bemoaned the end as something far too tidy and way, way too easy. What started off with the tremendous promise of being a great character study of how small towns shape a person and the struggle for acceptance, quickly devolved to something no more substantive than a run-of-the-mill rom com. Michelle even mentioned that the end felt too much like a beginning, like we were only getting started. Several members were ready for a meaty book two!!

Sarah Addison Allen might not have completely won us over with The Girl Who Chased the Moon, but several of us will definitely be seeking out more of her work. I have Garden Spells on the shelf. Have you read any of her books? Which is your favorite?

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February Meetup: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

11250053What a bittersweet Litwits discussion! We’re losing the amazingly fabulous Bianca to the greener grasses of California. She will be dearly missed especially since she’s been with us since the very first discussion EVER. Hard to lose the founding ladies, but we wish her nothing but the best in her Cali adventures!

On Sunday, we gathered to discuss The Snow Child and I could not have been more excited. I totally fell victim to all the hype surrounding this novelized fairy tale and was hard-pressed not to read the whole dang thing months in advance. Jack and Mabel’s story just intrigued me so much. A couple who hasn’t been able to have a child, who went through the pains of a stillbirth, moving to the seemingly barren terrain of frontier Alaska during the 1920s was impressive enough. Throw in the additional story line of a magical little snow child that comes to them in their greatest moment of need and I was hooked. And for me, the story could not have been any better.

But this post is about far more than my own biased opinion! My fellow Litwits did really seem to enjoy the story. A couple were a bit bothered by a somewhat slow, tedious first half and one or two didn’t manage to overcome that particular pitfall. Others pushed through the rather depressing first few chapters only to be rewarded by this quietly magical and very literary fairy tale. Quite simply, I think this might have been our best book discussion in a long while.

Thematically, the novel is rich and layered with such things as social pressures, social norms, self-discovery and identity, journeys, and the cyclical nature of life. Ivey’s language is dense in the best way possible, filled with the harshness and the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. You can tell she loves her homeland so very much. Kate talked in detail about how the Alaskan landscape really changes with the mood of the story – darkening and lightening to enhance the novel’s progression and delight the critical reader. A definite reason to reread. You could have an entire discussion on sense of place.

 

As for our snow fairy, Faina, she was such a wonderfully mysterious character and you are never really sure one way or the other what the truth about her existence really is. It’s left very much in the reader’s hand and spawned a lot of lively debate concerning her conclusion. But she isn’t the only marvelously written character! Everyone loved Esther and her whole family. She added a level of comedic relief in the midst of such dire and tragic circumstances. Ivey just seems so well-versed in how to balance intense emotion with the lightness of good friends and laughter.

In short, I highly recommend The Snow Child to all readers, but especially to fellow bookclubs. Let your members know that the story builds slowly, but pays off so much in the ending. And even though at times the narrative is highly predictable, Ivey’s poetic talent makes every word worth reading.