Like Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen, Susan Bishop Crispell, UNCW graduate mixes magic and romance.
Her latest, “The Holloway Girls,” is no different — and, as in Crispell’s previous novels, “The Secret Ingredient of Wishes” and “Dreaming in Chocolate,” a little baking is mixed into the mix.
For generations, the Holloway girls have been famous in the small town of Talus, not far from Asheville, North Carolina. When a girl from the Holloway family turns 16, something magical happens.
During this 16th year, known as the “Season of Kisses”, everyone kissed by this Holloway Girl is lucky for a few hours, a few days or maybe more, and maybe not all at once . A lucky kiss found a Picasso worth millions at a garage sale; another became a bestselling author.
The stories are recorded in a leather-bound lucky book, filled in by the women of Holloway.
There are a few rules though: the kiss has to be consensual and the other person can’t already be in love with someone else.
Some Holloway girls, like Maggie, try to spread good luck. But Maggie’s little sister, Remy, has other ideas the summer she turns 16. She only has eyes for Isaac, the dreamy high school jock whose locker is only three squares away from hers. She reserves her big kiss for him.
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Alas, Isaac was not entirely honest; he still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend Hannah. The results, after the big night at the edge of the waterfall, are catastrophic. Isaac ends up in the hospital, almost dead. He loses his chance for an athletic scholarship, finds out he has to repeat grade 10, then his dog is spooked by the 4th of July fireworks and runs away.
Hannah and Isaac’s gang quickly turn Remy into an outcast, and she’s literally steamed off to the family bakery, helping her mother make her whoopie pies. (They’re a bit like s’mores, only twice as good.)
Remy tries, unsuccessfully, to find a way to undo the curse. One answer might come when a cute guy moves in next door – and he’s a musician. (“The Holloway Girls” comes with its own playlist.)
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The result, like Crispell’s previous books, makes for delightful summer reading, but it also offers a window into current high school life. Things have come a long way since Archie, Jughead and Veronica – or even since “Riverdale”.
For one thing, at least three of the novel’s characters are lesbian or bisexual, and what’s interesting is that it doesn’t matter. The parents don’t shirk except when two girls get caught kissing in the pool when mom’s book club walks through the garden.
Persecution is minimal. None of the women are agonized or tortured, and no one has to take refuge in drugs or a bus trip to New York. It just does, and no one gets particularly excited about it — which, in the Bible Belt, is a big step.
‘THE HOLLOW GIRLS’
By Susan Bishop Crispell
Sourcebooks Fire, $10.99 Paperback