Sixteen-year-old Alex Lee must stay in her grandmother's mansion in Savannah, Georgia, until she's 18 --- and she's not happy about it. She hates the whole situation: Georgia, the mansion, the ever-present sweet tea. Her grandmother (who insists Alex call her "Miss Lee") looks eerily way too young to be a grandmother. Miss Lee and the rest of the ladies of the exclusive club called the Magnolia League are horrified by Alex. After all, she is chubby, wears her hair in dreadlocks, and sports vintage clothing. The southern women say, "That's how they do in California," while adding that these things are certainly not appropriate for Georgia.
Alex's life is as different as can be imagined since her mother died. She and her mom lived in a cabin surrounded by redwoods on an organic farming commune near California's Mendocino. At Rain Catcher Farms, her mom grew and administered medicinal herbs. Alex's heart is broken, of course, by the loss of her mother, who also leaves behind the boy she loves. Reggie had not yet told her he loved her, but Alex was positive that was soon to come. Now that she's in Georgia, she's certain she'll never know the end of that love story.
Two teenage members of the Magnolia League have been recruited by Miss Lee to rescue Alex. Best friends Hayes and Madison are both gorgeous, with impeccable taste, excellent non-frizzy hair and unlimited cash. About their quest to fix Alex, Hayes says, "…We're in charge of making her a Magnolia…" Madison, who is much more reluctant to make over Alex, calls her a dirty hippy --- and yet muses longingly for the kind of free life Alex enjoyed back at Rain Catcher Farms.
The girls take Alex shopping to outfit her for attending school in Savannah. Along the way, she meets Hayes's gorgeous brother Thaddeus, who is quite taken aback when she critiques A FAREWELL TO ARMS after he mentions he must read it for class. On the way home from shopping, Alex meets another intriguing character: Samuel Buzzard, who may be the most attractive person she has ever met. She finds herself confiding how out of place she feels, whereupon Sam advises her to celebrate her own uniqueness. But their easy conversation halts when he glimpses the unusual necklace she wears. He demands she tell him where she got it. When he finds out it was Alex's mother's, he seems upset, but composes himself enough to strongly advise her never to take it off. This is far from his most puzzling advice, though, which involves rubbing dimes on a frog's back under the light of a full moon.
Alex is surprised when her grandmother informs her that she must "come out." Has Miss Lee read her granddaughter entirely wrong? She hastens to assure Miss Lee that she isn't gay. But, as it happens, Miss Lee's "coming out" means an involved debutante ritual. The very idea horrifies Alex, who attempts to politely refuse. Miss Lee tells Alex that refusal is not an option; it is her destiny to be a debutante, just as it was Miss Lee's. She shows Alex a photo of Alex's mother in her debutante gown, asking if Alex doesn't want to be like her mom. Alex must admit that her mother is the one person she would like to emulate.
This is an entertaining story told by master storyteller Katie Crouch, who spins an intriguing tale set in lovingly detailed Savannah atmosphere (she describes the city's humid air as "thick, gardenia-flavored soup.") Alex is quite the endearing character. She is so real she could walk off the page, which makes her ultimate conundrum, dealing with magical powers, more gripping and powerful than it might be otherwise. THE MAGNOLIA LEAGUE ends with a cliffhanger, which should make readers very happy with the expectation of continuing Alex's story.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on May 3, 2011