Garden Spells (Allen)

Garden Spells
Sarah Addison Allen, 2007
Random House
304 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780553590326

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 dealwith 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Aka—Katie Gallagher
Birth—ca. 1972
Where—Ashville, North Carolina, USA
Education—B.A., University of North Carolina, Asheville
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, The Girl Who Chased the Moon in 2009, The Peach Keeper in 2011; and Lost Lake in 2014. Allen's 2015 novel First Frost returned to some of her charaters in Garden Spells.

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.

From a 2007 Barnes and Noble interview:

• I love food. The comforting and sensual nature of food always seems to find its way into what I write. Garden Spells involves edible flowers. My book out in 2008 involves southern and rural candies. Book three, barbeque. But, you know what? I'm a horrible cook.

• In college I worked for a catalog company, taking orders over the phone. Occasionally celebrities would call in their own orders. My brush with celebrity? I took Bob Barker's order.

• I was a Star Wars fanatic when I was a kid. I have the closet full of memorabilia to prove it — action figures, trading cards, comic books, notebooks with ‘Mrs. Mark Hamill' written all over the pages. I can't believe I just admitted that.

• While I was writing this, a hummingbird came to check out the trumpet vine outside my open window. I stopped typing and sat very still, mesmerized, my hands frozen on the keys, until it flew away. I looked back to my computer and ten minutes had passed in a flash.

• I love being a writer.

When asked what book most influenced her career as a writer, here is her response:

Every book I've ever read has influenced me in some way. Paddington Bear books and Beverly Cleary in elementary school. Nancy Drew and Judy Blume in middle school. The sci-fi fantasy of my teens. The endless stream of paperback romances I devoured as I got older. Studying world literature and major movements in college. Who I am, what I am, is the culmination of a lifetime of reading, a lifetime of stories. And there are still so many more books to read. I'm a work in progress. (Author bio from Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews 
This is a sweet book—pretty thin, even predictable. But if you're worn down by tackling dense, darker works, this may be the tonic you need. Garden Spells offers an easy introduction to magical realism. Claire Waverly has a secret garden in which she grows flowers and herbs for her catering business. Everyone in town knows about the garden—it's legendary—but few have ever stepped inside....
A LitLovers LitPick  (Feb. '08)

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

(Starred review.) 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

(Starred review.) This captivating concoction, which has strong fairytale elements, is set in a small town in western North Carolina.... 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.
Carol Haggas - Booklist

Discussion Questions 
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.)

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