Have you ever felt quieted and contented in the aura of a place, lulled into its sights and scents, acutely aware of its currents? If so, then you should take a good look at THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON, set in a small town with exactly that kind of quality.
Written by bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen, the novel is about the magic of Mullaby, North Carolina. The story's two protagonists are newcomers Emily Shelby and Julia Winterson. They're ordinary people in a place that could be any small town in America, its residents caught up in the humdrum and the trifles. No one has any secrets here, and everyone knows everybody else. Amid this chaos and peculiarity, Emily and Julia are trying to quietly cope with what life has handed them.
Emily is a cute but awkward teenager who has been orphaned, her mom having been killed in a car accident recently. She was the only person Emily was ever close to, and Emily is now being sent to live with her grandfather, Vance Shelby. Her mother rarely spoke of Emily's grandfather, and Emily had never met him before now. But after the funeral, Mullaby has become her home. The man is older, stoic and mild-tempered, and he towers over her at a height above 8 feet. Vance is known locally as the "gentle giant" and never speaks of what he's lost.
Julia is a 30ish-year-old woman whose home is in Baltimore. She grew up in Mullaby and moved away as soon as the opportunity presented itself. The death of her father a few months ago has necessitated her return to settle his business affairs, and she has moved in with her friend, Stella, next door to Vance. Julia's father was a prominent figurehead here as the owner of a small cafe that all the locals frequent. He was always welcoming and friendly to everyone, and his place remains a favorite hangout for many. His was the best smokehouse barbecue on Main Street, the sweet aroma drawing people in.
Julia is still grieving but has mixed feelings about returning, remembering her reputation as "the goth freak" years ago. Both her notoriety and her home life became so unbearable that, by age 16, she grew emotionally disturbed and began habitually harming herself. The discovery of her scars by her self-centered stepmother led to Julia being forcefully sent to a troubled girl's school. Since her return to Mullaby, Julia has been working at the café daily, but she plans to wrap up the business, sell it, and then leave.
While the past experiences of Julia and Emily and their families leave them feeling like social outcasts, being in Mullaby soon doesn't feel as odd as either thought it might. As neighbors, Julia is one of the first friends Emily meets, though a boy named Win Coffey also seems quite interested in becoming close to her. Strangely, the rest of his family treats her unkindly, and his father has forbidden Win to even speak to her. Julia's high school boyfriend, Sawyer, has also been practically beating down Julia's door, determined to win her over despite barriers of the past. In a place where people can so easily become an outsider, it seems strange to find that it also welcomes the eccentrics.
With a pleasant story and superb writing, THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON takes flight about halfway through, beginning slowly and letting the mystery unravel. As you read more, Mullaby and its people begin to sparkle with magic, the brightness of their personalities revealed before the past is. Though the characters may sound sappy on first impression, they've been written in quite an unemotional way. What people have been through or done in their lives seems to matter less than who they are and what they will become. The vitality of the writing permeates the mind and the senses, filling your thoughts with sweet aromas of warm cake and barbecued pork. Quiet afternoons draw cheerful crowds to the carnival, and dazzling moonlight entices young girls into the night. Familiar routines become serendipitous in Mullaby, the dispirited managing to see their way into this magic.
Reading this, you come to understand that strange and wondrous experiences aren't meant to be explained --- only appreciated.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on January 22, 2011
The Girl Who Chased the Moon