Monday, July 11, 2011

The Magnolia League Book Review

Author: Katie Crouch. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Hachette Book Group. ISBN: 9780316078498.
Annotation:  After her mother dies in a car accident, sixteen-year-old Alex Lee must leave the communal California farm she grew up on to live with her grandmother in Savannah, Georgia. After arriving in Savannah, Alex learns that her grandmother is part of an elite society known as the Magnolia League. Alex soon begins to suspect, however, that there is more to the league than just pretty dresses and debutante balls.  
Personal thoughts:  This book was a mixed bag for me. There were parts of the story I really liked and parts that I thought were either really silly or unnecessary. I will probably pick up the sequel regardless, because Crouch has managed to create an interesting story despite the downsides.
Plot summary: Sixteen-year-old Alex Lee has always lived on a communal farm in the mountainous woods of Mendocino, California with her mother. The farm values community and togetherness, and Alex and her mother help support the other residents by selling herbal tinctures her mother concocts. One terrible day, however, Alex’s mother is killed in a car accident. Alex soon finds out that she is being sent to live with the grandmother she has never met in Savannah, Georgia. After arriving in Savannah, Alex realizes she couldn’t fit it any less with her dreadlocks and grungy clothes. It appears that Alex’s grandmother, Miss Lee, is the head of an elite social group known as the Magnolia League. The Magnolias rule Savannah, and two of the league members Alex’s age, Hayes and Madison, are quickly forced to befriend the new girl despite their better judgment. Miss Lee tries hard to help Alex adjust to her new surroundings: buying her expensive clothes and teaching her the rules of being a debutante. As hard as her grandmother tries, however, it seems that Alex will never fit in. Soon, however, Alex becomes intrigued by the Magnolia League, not because of the fancy clothes or popularity, but when she learns that another Savannah family, the Buzzards, have helped to give the Magnolias their power through the use of hoodoo. Alex begins to wonder if the hoodoo spells could help her achieve beauty and popularity like the other Magnolias.
Review:  This first novel in Crouch’s new series (according to Crouch’s website, the sequel is being written), introduces an interesting back-story that, unfortunately, is hampered by a weak cast of characters and several unnecessary plot elements. The biggest problem with the story is the protagonist. Although Alex is a likable character, her upbringing and behavior are far from believable. Her constant references to the communal “pot farm” she grew up on in Mendocino and how her biggest talent lies in growing organic produce gets old quickly. Alex’s “hippiness” could have been downplayed more to be less cheesy and still have been effective. The second problem is Alex’s “friends,” Hayes and Madison. It’s clear that these two characters do not particularly want to be friends with Alex, but the trio spend a lot of time together anyway being mutually unpleasant. Alex’s constant second-guessing and unpleasantness make their loyalty hard to believe, even with the Magnolia League as an excuse. There are also some sexual references in the story that are unnecessary and out of place as well. That being said, Crouch does create some interesting plot elements that still manage to intrigue the reader. The back-story of the relationship between the Magnolia League and the Buzzards, as well as all of the references to hoodoo, are very interesting. The novel closes with a very effective cliffhanger that sets the stage for the next novel. Overall, I would not give this novel a high recommendation, but hope the series improves as more installments are published.
Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Reading level: Grade 9+

Similar titles: N/A
Themes:  Hoodoo/magic, Savannah/the South, death/loss, popularity, being yourself.  
Awards/Reviews:  Written by New York Times bestselling author.
Series Information: Sequel is being written, but title has not been released.   

Discussion Questions:

- What did you think of the compound where Alex and her mother were living in California? Would you like to live in such a place? Why or why not?

- Did you learn anything about hoodoo traditions when reading this book? Did you want to learn more about the history of this practice?

- What do you think of the Magnolia League? Is it a good or bad thing? Why?

- Are the Buzzards protagonists or antagonists? Why?

- What would you like to see happen in the sequel to this novel?

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