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Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Magnolia League by Kate Crouch

I was all set to give this book the worst rating I have ever given a novel on this blog, when I got the common sense to check and make sure there wasn't a sequel before I vented my anger via the web.

There is a sequel, thank goodness. Or at least, there's going to be. Otherwise I would have thrown my copy of The Magnolia League against the wall in anguish because the ending was so terrible, it explained nothing. But fortunately, there is no need for this, so the yellow paint on my wall will remain unchipped.

Now that I know that this was only the first book in what could be a series, I can focus on other praise and complaints. I almost stopped reading this book after chapter 1, basically because it opened up with the main character complaining to you about how much she hates sweet tea, and then about a page later, you learn that she's smoking pot. Yeah, not the best way to start a story. But here's what it's really about:

Sixteen year old Alexandria (Alex) Lee is forced to leave her home, an organic farm commune in California, after her mother dies in a tragic car accident. She moves in with her grandmother, who resides in Savannah, Georgia. Sadly for this chunky, dreadlock-dawning hippie, Alex's grandmother is the leader of the town's most prestigious debutante society, the Magnolia League. And the wealthy woman expects Alex to swap her Birkenstocks for Prada heels and give up her boho ways and adapt to the high-class social lifestyle of the women in the Magnolia League. Alex's grandmother lets two young Magnolia girls, the freakishly pretty and privileged Madison and Hayes assist her transformation.

But Alex will soon discover that the Magnolia League is no ordinary stuffy debutante society. It's members have attained their wealth, youth, beauty, and social status by black magic concocted by local hoodoo family the Buzzards. The Magnolia's pay for the spells that put them on top of the social ladder. Before she realizes it, Alex finds herself entangled in the mysterious and magical Magnolia League, but she's about to find out that all the endless glamour comes with a dangerous and deadly price.

I mentioned before that I almost stopped reading, because I found the opening very poorly done. We meet a bitter, pot-smoking Alex and her snuffy grandmother, and then the next chapter is about the strange Magnolia League having a meeting. But I kept pushing on, and it did get better once Alex's past is exposed and we meet Madison and Hayes, who work on her makeover. And peppered in with all the drama going on in Alex's life are hints that the town of Savannah and the Magnolia League aren't quite normal, and that there is something paranormal going on within both. It was interesting learning about the Buzzard family, and how they use old African hoodoo rituals as a family business, selling their spells. I enjoyed Alex's voice narrating the story, and I enjoyed her reactions to the snotty ways of the South, which I doubt was portrayed accurately in this book.

One thing I found annoying was how while some chapters were narrated by Alex, others were narrated by some unknown person when there were scenes where Alex wasn't present. It left me wondering why the author chose to do this. I also disliked the plot, because at some points it seemed to be going nowhere, and then it would pick up again. The part where Alex runs away back to her home in California, only to return back to Savannah, came across to me as an obnoxious plot twist. And I will say again that if there wasn't a sequel coming out, I would say that the conclusion was worse than Lois Lowrey's The Giver, it explained nothing! I felt like the end was very rushed, and too many things happened in the final chapters, and in addition to the black magic, we learn that spirits of the dead are also part of this world, which I thought was pretty weird, and I sadly didn't fully understand it. I also hated how Alex smoked pot, and how doing weed is portrayed without consequences in this book.

On the side of praise, I think the author certainly did her homework when looking up hoodoo rituals and botany. Reading about the bizarre spells is tons of fun, I'm not sure if they are legitimate rituals or not, but if not, Crouch was certainly creative making them up. And the elements of food, fashion, romance, and parties make it lots of fun. All this falls a bit flat though with the sad ending. But once you got into it, it's a gripping story.

Alluring, and both parts fun and tragic, this is a book that draws you in.
3/5 stars

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