I’ve loved Sarah Addison Allen’s books since the 2007 Garden Spells (the first of the Waverly family books) and have eagerly been waiting for this one since her last book out was in 2015 (the second Waverly family book). I often recommend her to someone looking for something light and charming, as she typically weaves together magical realism with small-town charm, great for a bit of escapism or some relaxation. This book has a very different tone and while I think it’s a good book, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting so I didn’t enjoy it as much as her previous books.
This book can’t decide what it wants to be. On the one hand, it’s a tale of benevolent ghosts and those that get left behind, a story of grief and how we can persevere. It’s also Zoey’s coming-of-age tale with all the trappings of a doe-eyed girl, eager to meet other people and make connection. But then it also has some suuuuper dark twists and turns that pop up out of left field, and sometimes right field. We’ve got a reclusive author, a cult, and alleged prostitution. It’s a lot. Altogether, there is good stuff there, but it’s just too uneven for me and I never really got into it. I’d be interested in other opinions though, because I think maybe Allen has ventured into some darker places.
Also, on a personal note, as a stepmother (and a darn good one), I get immediately prickly when the “evil stepmother” trope gets trotted out. I get it, it’s not an uncommon character archetype, but it makes me tired and frustrated. Also, in Zoey’s case, I don’t think it was necessary. The character didn’t really add anything to her story and in my opinion, could have been left out.