Edge, Reviews

‘First Frost’ tells unique, magical family story

Following the characters from “Garden Spells,” Sarah Addison Allen continues the stories of the Waverly sisters in its sequel, “First Frost.”

This book maintains high-quality writing and constructs another story of love, trust and hope for the family living in the small town of Bascom, North Carolina.

Never mind how loosely the content was presented –  listing stories of several family members without much clear focus – the book created a sense of warmth that has the power to make readers smile at the very end.

Born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, it seems natural for Allen to set the scene in a place she knows well. This familiarity allowed her to bring the story to life, especially through the careful use of details like, “her hand going to the collar of her white polo shirt with the Pendland Street Inn logo embroidered on the chest,” and “the neighborhood was quiet in that way only the cold could make it, freezing sounds before the snow hit the ground.”

All these bring something tangible, engaging and amazing to readers.

Influenced by her journalist father, Allen was determined to write after graduation. Her break came in 2007 with her first publication, “Garden Spells,” a story with the same setting but a different time frame. She published three other bestselling books in more recent years, but she was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer at the age of 39. She returned to write in 2014, and “First Frost” is her second book since her remission.

The Waverley family is known as a family with magic. Unlike the magical powers in the “Harry Potter” series, “First Frost” includes magic in a different, but cuter, way – Claire makes food that is not only delicious, but influences people’s moods; Sydney has a special talent for dealing with hair; Bay knows where everything belongs.

There is also an unusual apple tree that blooms and produces apples during an abnormal season. The Waverley family has a tradition to celebrate the first frost when the tree blooms in the fall. As Allen writes, “first frost meant letting go … everything was okay after that.” All of this makes both the family and the book seem more mysterious and interesting.

The plots of the novel are revealed at a slow pace, engaging readers in a journey to explore what will happen next. The book makes readers turn the pages without stopping and contains a magic that keeps readers fascinated as the story develops.

In the story, Claire Waverley has started a new venture: Waverley Candies. Her candy, having magical powers, lets people recall lost loves, find happiness and soothe their throats and minds. However, as her business grows, she sacrifices her everyday joys with her husband and daughter.

Sydney Waverley increasingly wants to have a baby for her husband Henry, and loses happiness as she keeps trying.

Bay Waverley becomes obsessed with a boy named Josh Matteson, who does not notice how much she wants to be with him.

In the mist of everyone’s troubles, a mysterious man shows up and tries to shake the very foundation of the family. Feeling stressed and fearful, the Waverleys just cannot take it any longer and need to make choices that are crucial to their lives and well-being.

The stories of the Waverleys are a complex mix of bitter and sweet; the two tastes are in constant conflict until, finally, the sweet takes over as the first frost comes.

“First frost would be over and things were always set right by then,” Allen wrote.

The end brings relief and laughter. This makes the reader realize that it is not necessary to have a grand narrative to affect the heart; a well-portrayed, small story is enough.

Instead of employing an overused form of narrative by telling the stories one by one, Allen mixed the stories of multiple characters in a smart and unique way that does not leave the reader confused as the story switches perspectives.

Readers share the characters’ emotions and mood changes as the book goes forward. There are struggles and hurt, but they are all covered by love, trust and hope at the very end.

Feature photo courtesy goodreads.com.

March 3, 2015

Reporters

Siyuan Tong


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