BOOK REVIEW: 'The Girl Who Chased the Moon'

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Girl Who Chased the Moon'

Evocative Southern Gothic novel about events of the past and their impact on the present

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." -- George Webber in Thomas Wolfe's posthumously published novel "You Can't Go Home Again"


Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) is arguably North Carolina's most famous writer, and the title of his novel has become part of the language. The phrase is usually interpreted as meaning that your childhood home is too confining, too full of memories for a person who has been away to make the transition to living there later in life.

North Carolina writer Sarah Addison Allen, in her evocative novel "The Girl Who Chased the Moon" (Bantam Books Trade Paperback, 304 pages, $15.00, ) has two characters who might fit Wolfe's rules: Julia Winterson and Emily Benedict. Technically, 17-year-old Emily never considered Mullaby, North Carolina, home: She returns after the death of her mother -- then known as Dulcie Shelby -- left the small town in disgrace two decades before Emily comes to live with her grandfather, Vance Shelby.

Thirty-something Julia grew up in Mullaby and returned to run a popular restaurant owned by her late father. She doesn't plan to run J's Barbecue for more than two years and plans to return to Baltimore and open her own bakery. Julia is what might be called a serial baker: she can't stop baking cakes that everybody in Mullaby -- including Sawyer, her once -- and future, he hopes, boyfriend -- loves. Julia rents an apartment from her friend Stella Ferris, who also has a history with Sawyer, making for a complicated, often hilarious plot.

Emily is welcomed by grandpa Vance, who turns out to be a more than eight-foot-tall gentle giant, modeled, the author says, on the world's tallest man, Robert Pershing Wadlow (1918-1940), "The Illinois Giant", who was eight feet eleven inches tall at the time of his death. The novel is dedicated to Wadlow.

Sparks begin to fly in Mullaby when Emily meets Win Coffey, a charming boy about her own age, who will be her classmate for their upcoming senior year at Mullaby High School. Win's father Morgan blames Dulcie -- and by extension Emily -- for the suicide death of his brother Logan Coffey. Morgan Coffey fears that Emily will bewitch Win in much the same way that he believes her mother Dulcie did to Logan -- and reveal the Coffey family's secret.

"The Girl Who Chased the Moon" is a poetic novel of fantasy and romance that will appeal to both men and women. Technically, it's probably "chick lit," but I enjoyed it and I think most men who will give it a chance will enjoy it, too. If you are a fan of barbecue, North Carolina style, you'll discover in "The Girl Who Chased the Moon" a novel for foodies.

About the author: Sarah Addison Allen was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, which is also the hometown of Thomas Wolfe. She is the author of "Garden Spells" and "The Sugar Queen." 

Author's web site: www.sarahaddisonallen.com

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