"The Girl Who Chased the Moon" (Bantam Books, 265 pages, $25), by Sarah Addison Allen: Sarah Addison Allen stays on familiar ground in her latest offering, "The Girl Who Chased the Moon," dishing up light doses of magical realism and romance, all in the North Carolina landscape where she grew up. It's a formula that has worked well for her, including putting her first novel, "Garden Spells," on the best-seller list.
In this latest book, teenager Emily Benedict is sent to her mother's hometown, where she's never been, and to a grandfather she doesn't know, after the death of her mother, a social activist who dedicated her life to good causes and training others, including her daughter, to work for them as well.
Her mother never talked about her youth, her hometown or her father. Emily finds that he is a giant, over 8 feet tall. He's apparently indifferent to her arrival, and certainly not eager to talk about her mother. In fact, no one in Mullaby wants to talk about her.
Next-door neighbor Julia, a baker of extraordinary cakes, tells Emily that her mother was the leader of the most popular group of students in high school. Julia, who was a gothic misfit in school, eventually adds that Emily's mother constantly tormented her, bringing dog food and flea powder to school, or barking at her because of the dog collar she wore at the time.
The other crack in the wall of silence is another teenager, Win Coffey, who would be bullied unmercifully in any other town for wearing suits, bow ties and even a straw "boater."
Although it may be hard to believe that people cling to high school hurts as long as the people in Mullaby apparently do, the book offers enough pleasures to make for an enjoyable read, including dark family secrets, wallpaper that changes to fit a mood, cakes that can bring back lost love, people with a "sweet sense" and strange lights that appear and disappear.
"The Girl Who Chased the Moon" — the literary equivalent of a chick flick — offers the very lightest of reading and happy endings all around.