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The Girl Who Chased the Moon    by Sarah Addison Allen order for
Girl Who Chased the Moon
by Sarah Addison Allen
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sarah Addison Allen, bestselling author of Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen, brings readers another sweet, magical love story in The Girl Who Chased the Moon. It addresses both romantic love and the love between generations in a family, in the context of a charming Southern barbeque town, redolent with fragrant and savory odors. A puzzle pulls reader interest through the tale - why did seventeen-year-old Emily Benedict's mother leave Mullaby, North Carolina, and why do its inhabitants think so badly of her?

As young Emily arrives in Mullaby, the air is 'tomato-sweet and hickory-smoked, all at once delicious and strange.' She finds her mother's old home, 'outrageously flaunting its age' and meets her grandfather, Vance Shelby, for the first time. Suffering arthritis, he 'was fantastically tall and walked with a rigid gait, his legs like stilts ... He looked like he could splinter at any moment.' Emily takes her mother's old room, its wallpaper decorated with 'rows and rows of tiny lilacs'.

As Emily adjusts to her reticent grandfather, the Gentle Giant of Mullaby, and to the town, odd things happen. The charm bracelet her mother Dulcie gave her disappears and reappears. White lights dart through the woods at night. The wallpaper in her room changes by magic, reflecting her moods. After Emily meets Win Coffey, a handsome young man, 'like something out of a Tennessee Williams play' who 'made her feel tangled in him', locals are surprisingly hostile. Why? Dulcie Shelby, who was devoted to charitable causes, told her daughter nothing of Mullaby.

Emily meets her next door neighbor, Julia Winterson, who has her own secrets, a dream for the future - and a special magic. Julia rents her room from Stella Ferris, once her high school enemy, and they have become unlikely friends. Julia has heard gossip in her restaurant, J's Barbeque, about Emily's mother, and feels protective. She muses, 'Living down your own past was hard enough. You shouldn't have to live down someone else's.' She bakes one of her famous cakes for Emily.

Sawyer Alexander, who's charming, handsome, smart, rich, fun, kind - and has 'an infamous sweet tooth' - courts Julia, who has told Stella that she bakes cakes because of him. There are hints that they have an unfortunate high school history. So why does she always push him away? This mystery, as well as Dulcie's, is of course resolved by the end of the novel. Emily gradually learns her mother's real history. It's neither what she always believed, nor the townsfolks' version.

Sarah Addison Allen's The Girl Who Chased the Moon is a small town, feel-good tale, hinting of Romeo & Juliet and leavened with the spice of fantasy. It deals with love in a myriad of forms, enchanted like Dulcie Shelby's wallpaper. Fans of the author's previous novels will salivate over the plot of this one - and over its enticing barbeques and cakes.

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