The Prophetic Properties of Apples (A Review of Garden Spells & First Frost)

SAA Two CoversApples aren’t as fancy as more recently touted “superfoods” like mangosteen (which I love) or chia seeds (which taste like dirt), but scientific studies regularly show that the high fiber, nutrient rich fruits that many of us grow in our backyards are very good for our health. As the well-known 1860’s proverb goes, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”*

Research suggests, for example, that apples reduce the risk of chronic diseases, improve cardiovascular health, bolster weight-loss efforts, and encourage graceful aging.**

In Garden Spells (2007), a novel by Sarah Addison Allen, the apples of one tree in Bascom, North Carolina exhibit a rather unusual property: they tell people what the biggest event in their lives will be.

The Waverley family, the stewards of this tree and all that grows in the enchanted soil around it, have learned to never eat these apples. However, they regularly harness the power of other magically endowed foods:

Excerpt from Garden Spells

Allen’s novel features likeable characters, light magic, and small town charm. While I felt that the author explained too much about the plot and character’s motivations — the “telling instead of showing” problem that plagues many writers the book is a good choice for those looking for easily digestible entertainment.

Garden Spells has been popular enough to warrant a sequel, First Frost, which Allen published in 2015, several years after the first book. Both novels feature Bascom’s subtly magical Waverley clan, ten years apart.

In First Frost, the female leads continue to adhere to the seemingly authentic, but sometimes perplexing, mix of progressive and traditional attitudes that they exhibited in Garden Spells. For instance, a character who is independent and competent enough to run her own business, albeit in the beauty industry, also desperately hopes for a son to take over the dairy farm her husband inherited from his grandfather. Um, aren’t girls capable of doing that?

excerpts from FFHer only child, a daughter named Bay, is a five-year-old, secondary character in Garden Spells and a fifteen-year-old, main character in First Frost. Her large role in the latter book places it more firmly into the young adult genre than the so-called “women’s fiction” category that many readers would use to describe Garden Spells.

In First Frost, we also learn more about Bay’s long-deceased great-grandmother, known as “Grandmother” or “Grandma Waverley” in the first book and “Grandmother Mary” in the second. It’s odd that the living Waverleys refer to the matriarch of their family differently in the two books, but the novels otherwise fit together nicely.

Overall, Garden Spells and First Frost are enjoyable, fluffy books. I liked the first one enough to read the second, and I liked the pair of them enough to wonder whether Allen will write a third.*** The feisty tree at the heart of both of these stories also had me yearning for apples, especially for the fresh, local varieties we have in the fall. Real-life fruit can’t divulge the future, but it generally improves the odds of having a healthier one.

Check out these other reviews:

  • Melanie of The Indextious Reader on Garden Spells: “Unfortunately I think I will be in the minority when I say that I really didn’t love it. I thought it was just alright… Each Waverly woman has a special gift, but really, hairdressing as a special magical talent?”
  • Katie of Words for Worms on First Frost: “This book was the perfect read for me at the perfect time… Sarah Addison Allen is often compared to Alice Hoffman, which is apt, but where Hoffman goes dark, Allen goes light. That, my friends, is pure magic.”

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*See also, An Apple (or Two) A Day (discussing Fancy Nancy: Apples Galore!).

**See, e.g., C. Samieri, et al. Dietary Flavonoid Intake at Midlife and Healthy Aging in Women, American J. of Clinical Nutrition (2014) (defining “healthy aging as surviving to older ages free of major chronic diseases and maintaining good cognitive, physical, and mental health.”); D. A. Hyson, A Comprehensive Review of Apples and Apple Components and Their Relationship to Human Health, Advances in Nutrition: An International Rev. J. (2011).

***I’m curious to know what happens when the Clark/Mattesons return to Bascom. Emma, whose inherited “talent” perpetually annoyed me, isn’t going to be a happy camper!

9 thoughts on “The Prophetic Properties of Apples (A Review of Garden Spells & First Frost)

  1. Pingback: An Apple For The Teacher (Wait. What?) | The Misfortune Of Knowing

  2. bevalex

    Your review is fun and interesting, as always. I do so hate the word ‘fluffy’ though, especially as it was used to describe one of my books! Apples, I have a lot of time for, although my recent trip to Bordeaux was a bit of a disaster for the ones I forgot about on the sideboard. What I do take from your comments is that I should have a look at some titles by Alice Hoffman. I like character driven novels but I must have ‘dark’ nooks and crannies (thick, sludgy dark). After all, who wants people to be nice all the time?

    1. Yeah, you might like them if you like Alice Hoffman. Katie addressed it in her review, saying, “Sarah Addison Allen is often compared to Alice Hoffman, which is apt, but where Hoffman goes dark, Allen goes light.”

      These two Allen books are best for readers who want entertainment and aren’t going to be too picky about the flaws (such as the gender roles, the lengthy descriptions/explanations, and extraneous characters/plot lines).

  3. I read Garden Spells some time ago, and remember being charmed by it. I read others by the same author and generally thought she was someone to keep up with. I’m glad to know she has a sequel, but should go back and re-read the original, or I will be lost! Thanks for the heads-up!

    1. If you liked Garden Spells, then First Frost is definitely worth reading! Certain aspects of these books annoyed me, but not enough to dislike the books overall.

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