Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch

Title: The Magnolia League
Author: Katie Crouch
Publisher: Hachette Book Group/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 3rd, 2011
Pages: 238 pages (Adobe Digital Editions document)
How I Got the Book: From the publisher through NetGalley (and thank you so much for it!)

After the death of her free-spirited mother, sixteen-year-old Alex Lee must leave her home in northern California to live with her wealthy grandmother in Savannah, Georgia. By birth, Alex is a rightful, if unwilling, member of the Magnolia League, Savannah's long-standing debutante society. She quickly discovers that the Magnolias have made a pact with a legendary hoodoo family, the Buzzards. The Magnolias enjoy youth, beauty and power. But at what price?

As in her popular adult novels, Crouch's poignant and humorous voice shines in this seductively atmospheric story about girls growing up in a magical Southern city.


After her mother's death, sixteen-year-old Alexandria "Alex" Lee is forced to pack up her things and move from her Mendocino, California commune to Savannah, Georgia. If all goes according to her grandmother Miss Lee's plans, Alex will become a proper Magnolia girl and take over the League's reins when Miss Lee retires or dies or something. To help Alex get caught up, Hayes Anderson and Madison Telfair, two fellow Magnolia girls, will help her. As she settles into her new high-class life, Alex notices how the Magnolias have so much money, beauty, and power that it seems supernatural. And it is--the Magnolias use hoodoo to keep themselves rich and beautiful, but that power comes with a price.

The book's opening passage, a diatribe against sweet tea that made me laugh for all the right reasons, seems to promise a good book ahead, one with a heroine who's going to fight tooth and nail against her grandmother's silly society group. If only that were what it actually promised. The novel's closing line (I don't think it's spoiler-ish, so here it is: "The White Glove War has begun.") has to be one of my new favorite lines from a book. The material between that wonderful opening passage and that final line could have used some more work, but it was enough to keep me tuned in for the next installment in this series.

I've been to the city of Savannah before, though it was when I was eleven or twelve and my memory is foggy, and most of my knowledge of Savannah comes from a book about the city's many famous ghosts. Crouch manages to really bring the city to life in her descriptions and make me feel like my trip to Savannah happened just last week. The descriptions of the city are vivid and for the most part, the descriptions of the people share this quality. It verges into repetitive at times (almost everything Miss Lee does seems to be tagged with "patiently" and I'm amazed at whoever can forget that Thaddeus is hot and snobby), but I've seen much worse from other books.

Despite slow pacing that suddenly explodes at the end of the novel, The Magnolia League flew by as a read it. My interest in Madison, Hayes, Alex, and hoodoo's part in the Magnolia League kept me reading through annoyances both big (you shall see later) and small (many predictions I made came true). The present tense point-of-view got on my nerves at times, but that's just my personal pet peeve. What little we saw of the other characters through the small pieces that were in third person made me wish we spent more time with them instead of in Alex's head. Hopefully, future novels in the series will shed a little more light on Madison and Miss Lee, the two characters who had the most potential for true depth.

At the beginning of the novel, I liked Alex. She didn't care about designer labels and would rather spend her money on a charity that helps people in impoverished nations than on a new purse. As time went on, I began to like her less and less. Most of the Magnolia girls are unbearably shallow and and care far more about their appearances than anything. Alex, healthier than her friends (as we are constantly reminded by people calling her names or Alex herself pointing it out) and wearing dreadlocks, was a great contrast. Then Alex is informed of all the hoodoo and it gets worse from there. Alex goes from the unique, interesting person she is to the same sort of shallow girl she criticized Hayes and Madison as being.

There are all sorts of underlying messages there, but I'll talk about just one. Hayes and Madison use hoodoo to replace Alex's dreads with normal hair and give Alex a talis (bracelet) that will make her skinny. Shortly after this makeover, her love interest Thaddeus finally takes the plunge and asks her out. It was obvious before the makeover that they both liked each other, so why couldn't they have admitted their feelings beforehand, when Alex was still fat and had dreads? A comment from Madison in the middle of this event about how Alex looks great now, combined with the timing of this event, implied an anger-worthy message to me and could do the same for a lot of people. I hope it doesn't turn out I'm digging deeper than is possible here. I don't want it to turn out that I dug a hole a mile deep in ground that isn't there.

Alex gets called out at least twice for how she's gone from being the unique girl from California who refused to be a Magnolia girl to the same shallow girl her friends are. She reflects so little on this that it's almost infuriating and did little to make my experience with the novel any better. I really thought she would be better than using hoodoo to change herself and so easily becoming what she detested, but it looks like I was wrong. She had touches of naivety, but not enough of them for some of her actions to seem in-character. It surprised me when only one person took serious notice of Alex's rapid changes and had a feeling something was wrong. So much about Alex changed so quickly that I find it implausible that only one person had serious suspicion something other than hard work was at... well, work.

And I hate to tag it with the "ugly covers" tag, but that blurring effect on the bottom half of the cover kills me. I like the part of it that's crisp and clear, but hate that they did the blurring thing. Ruins the cover for me.  Her facial expression also strikes me wrong. Naturally, my impression of the cover did not affect the book's rating--I just love examining book covers when I can and wanted to mention what I thought of it this time.

Starting out strong, The Magnolia League started going downhill shortly after all the hoodoo hoopla was revealed. It gained some strength back at the end of the novel when Alex got called out by multiple people for what she was doing, but it wasn't enough to save this novel completely. I'm definitely picking up The White Glove War when it comes out next year because I want to see where it can go from here. Will Alex take a look at what she's become and change or will she continue with her hoodoo use? We shall see.

Never mind what I had scratched out. Considering the author's Slate article, I won't be picking up my own copy of The Magnolia League, I'm not going to read The White Glove War, and I'm going to make sure people know what she thinks of her fans before they buy her books. Why should I support an author that doesn't value me as a fan and thinks of me as just another sucker to lure in and scam money off of?

2 stars!

What am I reading next?: Mercy by Rebecca Lim