Garden Spells (2007), and its sequel First Frost (2014) both by Sarah Addison Allen
All of the Waverley women possess a bit of magic, never the same as her relatives, but interesting and exciting all the same. Their magic gifts and the special knowledge their magic gives them are well-known in their small North Carolina town, sometimes accepted and sought out, at other times scoffed at and feared. As a result, they are a family of women who always find themselves on the outside of things.
In Garden Spells, we meet Claire, Sydney, and Bay Waverley who all live in Bascom, North Carolina. Their ancestral home is surrounded by a magic garden where the plants can cast spells when prepared just right and in which a old apple tree stands. A tree rumored to show anyone who eats its apples the biggest moment in their lives; apples which the Waverley women who live in the house work constantly to prevent people from eating.
For Claire, who arrived in Bascom at age six, the town and her family who lived in it, were a refuge from the wild and often scary life her mother had lived with her on the road. Claire, like her grandmother before her, prepares foods from the magic garden that bewitch the people who eat them. “Nasturtium mayonnaise gave the ability to keep secrets, crystallized pansies made children thoughtful, honeysuckle wine when served on the Fourth of July gave you the ability to see in the dark, chicory and mint salad had you believing something good was about to happen.” (11) Also, like her grandmother, Claire is a bit of a recluse, fearful of change and wary of building relationships with people who might hurt her. Only through the family catering company, where she sells her magic food, is she a part of the town.
For Claire’s sister Sydney, Bascom was a prison where she was constantly avoided, and at times bullied, because of her family’s oddness. She left town at eighteen planning never to return but now finds herself back, living in Waverley mansion with her sister and her daughter Bay. Bascom, however small minded and mean she finds it, at least offers her and her daughter safety from her violent ex-boyfriend. Sydney’s gift is to be able to tell style a person’s hair and change the outcome of his or her day; a gift that makes her a sought-after hair dresser.
Bay Waverley is only five, but already she knows her gift: she can look at an object or a person and know exactly where it belongs. This means that Bay is always finding lost items, rearranging cabinets, and at times, nudging people towards to situations or relationships where they belong. Although young, she understands that she and her mother did not belong with her abusive father, but here in Bascom. And she also knows that her mother and aunt both belong with men who love them.
The sisters are faced with rebuilding their relationship and helping Bay find a place in a town that neither feels totally at home in. This means Sydney must share her secrets and find peace among the townspeople who mistreated her as a child. For her part, Claire must start to participate in the world more and accept friendship and love do not come with promises to never break her heart, but are worth the risk none the less. The curious nature of their magic blends together just so that all three of the Waverley’s draw good luck, love, and friendship to them all; and they are able to overcome their past hurts and heal.
First Frost (2014)
“On the day the tree bloomed in the fall, when its white blossoms fell and covered the ground like snow, it was tradition for the Waverleys to gather in the garden like survivors of some great catastrophe, hugging one another, laughing as they touched faces and arms, making sure they were okay, grateful to have gotten through it. It was a relief, putting their world back in order. They always got restless before the first frost, giving their hearts away to easily, wanting things they couldn’t have, getting distracted and clumsy and too easily influenced by the opinions of others. First Frost meant letting go, so it twas always a reason to celebrate.” 10
In a book set ten years after Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen brings back the magical Waverley women with another tale. In First Frost, our main narrator is Bay Waverley, now nearly sixteen and deeply entrenched in both her extended family and Bascom, NC. As October arrives, the Waverley women begin to feel wild and unteethered and cannot help but “want things they cannot have.” The magic tree that grows in the garden at Waverley mansion affects them all deeply, more and more the closer it draws towards the first frost.
In the intervening years since the first book, both Bay’s mother and her aunt have found love and built a loving family in the small town, but their hope to raise Bay without her being ostracized from the town’s non-magic residents were never realized. Bay remains an outsider at school but resolutely refuses to let it hurt her. She knows, now even more so than when she arrived to Bascom in Garden Spells, that her magical gift — to know where objects and people belong — is exactly that, a gift. Even if it keeps people away from her, especially the boy she has fallen in love with from afar, Josh Matteson. A boy who has laughed at her claims that she belongs with him, spurned her love and left her humiliated.
“She belonged to him. That alone was hard enough to bear. But the fact that she knew he also belonged to her, that he was on a path he wasn’t meant for, was excruciating. Getting him to believe that was the hardest thing she’d ever tried to do. She finally understood that no matter how hard you try, you cannot make someone love you. You cannot stop them from making the wrong decision. There was no magic for that.” 17
Over the course of one month, all of the Waverley women — including now, Claire’s daughter Mariah — must hold the center while the tree and its magic tempts them to take too many risks and put their hearts too much on the line. Despite their sudden desire to keep secrets from each other, it is only together that they can get through the month without too much pain.
First Frost is just as magical and wonderful as its prequel, and it is so fun to see another generation of women in this powerful, loving family grow.