The ladies of Savannah’s Magnolia League are a charmed lot, but their good looks and wealth come at a price that most outsiders wouldn’t believe. After making a deal with a voodoo king, the members have enough spells and potions to keep them young, beautiful, and successful for the rest of their lives, but they sometimes find themselves sinking deeper into the swamp than they can handle.
White Glove War is the second book in the Magnolia League series, co-written by Porter-Gaud grads Katie Crouch (based in San Francisco and Edisto Island) and Grady Hendrix (based in New York). The first book explored the origins of the league and a young trio of up-and-coming Magnolias — Madison, Alex, and Hayes — and this installment focuses on the girls as they enter their first official season as members. Rather than spend their time sipping swamp brew tea and trading love charms, they find themselves thrust deeply into the dark society, where they commune with the dead in both enlightening and frightening ways. If you haven’t read the first book, you might find yourself scratching your head a few times, but overall it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on.
The book shifts between three main points of view: the all-seeing narrator, the goody two-shoes Hayes, and former hippie chick Alex. Alex has shed her dreadlocks and baby fat and seems poised to ascend to the top of the league’s hierarchy, right beside her seemingly evil grandmother — but she has an ulterior motive for her good behavior. Meanwhile, Hayes is struggling to hold on to her position as the golden child, and she finds herself slipping when the pressure gets to be too much. Madison, the third member of the group, is mostly overlooked in this installment, making it a bit jarring when she steps up in the end.
Like another spooky novel set in Savannah (John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a.k.a. “The Book” in Savannah-speak), the city itself is practically a character. The authors skillfully transport us to a mild winter in the Lowcountry, where the characters conjure spells in one of the city’s famous squares, explore mysterious sea islands, and leap headfirst into the icy Savannah River to escape a spirit in hot pursuit. Local haunts like Pinkie Master’s and Leopold’s Ice Cream are mentioned occasionally, but not in the name-dropping way some Southern authors seem to favor.
It would be easy for the book to veer into sticky Southern stereotypes, but the authors manage to keep the dialogue and action from feeling trite. Crouch writes with authority, thanks to her training as a debutante in Charleston. She also wrote her thesis on Gullah culture and the hoodoo religion of the Sea Islands years ago, so the descriptions of exorcism ceremonies, spells, and rituals have at least some grounding in reality.
The series is targeted toward young adult readers, and although it’s a quick, easy read, it doesn’t talk down to anyone, whatever their age. In a Slate article following the release of their first book, the authors said that writing YA as an adult is a chance to rewrite being a teenager. The Magnolia League is like the high school experience they never had — “where everyone is witty and good-looking and their problems are more like, ‘My evil grandmother is torturing my dead mom’s soul!’ rather than, ‘I have a lot of zits.'” Crouch admitted that the transition to YA writing has been difficult, but it’s clear that the pair is having fun with it.