Synopses & Reviews
In her latest enchanting novel, New York Times
bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen invites you to a quirky little Southern town with more magic than a full Carolina moon. Here two very different women discover how to find their place in the world—no matter how out of place they feel.
Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. Such as, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly? And why did she vow never to return? But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew—a reclusive, real-life gentle giant—she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life: Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor bakes hope in the form of cakes.
Everyone in Mullaby adores Julia Winterson’s cakes—which is a good thing, because Julia can’t seem to stop baking them. She offers them to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth but also in the hope of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever. Flour, eggs, milk, and sugar . . . Baking is the only language the proud but vulnerable Julia has to communicate what is truly in her heart. But is it enough to call back to her those she’s hurt in the past?
Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily’s backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Sarah Addison Allen is the author of Garden Spells
and The Sugar Queen
. She was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. The legend of the Mullaby lights is front and center in this story. How do legends come to exist? What do they say about a culture or community? Can you imagine something like this happening in your town? Have you ever had a haunting or whimsical experience that led you to a valuable discovery?
2. In Mullaby, barbecue is a celebratory food, meant to be shared. It brings people together. On the other hand, for Julia, cake-baking is a solitary activity, a ceremony she performs alone to feel connected to someone she has lost. Why do you think food is so central to this story? What kind of meaning can cooking, baking, and food take on? What do they mean to you? What kind of food is your city/state known for?
3. Julia finds that baking cakes is the only way she can comfortably express what is truly going on in her heart. What
hobby or talent allows you to reveal yourself more clearly to others? Is there something specific about you or something you are good at that you feel draws others to you?
4. From the moment they meet, Win and Emily seem unavoidably drawn to each other. What do you think is the cause of this connection, and why does the bond between them grow so quickly? Do you think that this kind of romance would be possible if they were older?
5. Julia takes an immediate liking to Emily, assuming a motherly role. What do you think draws Julia to Emily? Could it be that Julia needed Emily just as much as Emily needed Julia? Have you ever taken a nurturing stance in someone else’s life only to find that they were truly rehabilitating you? Furthermore, do you think the relationship between Emily and Julia helped open Julia to Sawyer? If so, how?
6. Despite the fact that Sawyer mistreated Julia in a painful way, she ultimately forgives him. Do you think that Sawyer deserved Julia’s forgiveness? Do you think that you would forgive someone who had abandoned you in the same way? Do you think that there are limits on what a person can forgive?
7. In the story, we see different characters mourning the loss of loved ones (Emily her mother, Vance his wife and daughter, and Julia her daughter and father). What are the different ways these characters cope with their losses? What do you think their coping mechanisms say about who they are?
8. Julia only moves back to Mullaby under the self-enforced condition that she will leave in two years. Why do you think
she returned to Mullaby to save her father’s restaurant when their relationship had been so tenuous? Other than Sawyer, what persuades her to stay in her hometown?
9. Emily has one view of her mother, while the town has a very different view. And Grandpa Vance has yet another understanding. Who is/was the real Dulcie? Do you believe a person can truly change? How might Emily’s life have been different if she had known the truth of her mother’s past before coming to Mullaby?
10. Many people in Mullaby could be considered misfits. From the most prominent family in town to Julia and Vance, there are many characters who have the experience of not fitting in. How does this affect their lives? How do some manage to use this to their advantage while others seem to suffer for it? What does this say about the power of belonging? Why do many people, particularly young people, feel the need to belong while others are determined to stand out? Which kind of person are you?
11. Emily’s grandfather is a lovable giant. She is completely taken aback when she first sees him. Have you ever met someone who did not meet your expectations at all? In what way(s)? In much the same way, Julia and Stella’s friendship seems like an unlikely pairing. What do you think they gain from their differences? What do you gain from the opposites in your life?
12. At the end of the story, when Vance reveals the truth behind Dulcie’s motivations for the midnight show in the park,
Emily is at first incredulous that he has kept this secret for so long. Why do you think he took so long to reveal this? Do you think it was right of him to allow the town to think of her negatively? What would you have done if Dulcie were your daughter?
13. At the beginning of the novel, Emily discovers the grandfather she didn’t know she had, and at the very end, Maddie
embarks on a relationship with Julia. What does this story tell us about our blood connections? Do you think that being related to someone binds you to them whether you know them personally or not? What do you think Julia and Maddie’s relationship will look like five or ten years down the road?