Alexandria Lee grew up on a pot farm in Mendocino with a bunch of homeschooling hippies, being raised by her super-gardener mother Louisa. Life was good, until Louisa drove off a cliff when Alex was 15. A few months later, her never-met grandmother's lawyer shows up at the pot farm to drag Alex to the family hometown of Savannah, Georgia. It's a whole other world for Alex, and I don't just mean in the "hippie dreadlocks girl moves to the South" sort of way, although that's certainly a factor too.
Alex's grandmother Dorothy must be called "Miss Lee" rather than "Grandmother," and appears to be in her late 30's. She is the head of the Magnolia League, a non-secret society of the ruling women of Savannah. They're all young, rich, and suspiciously beautiful-looking, even the "Senior Four" who are in their seventies or so. Plastic surgery? Oh no. Nope, the Magnolias are all hoodoo users. They've got a longstanding contract with the Buzzards (yes, that's their real name), a family of hoodoo practitioners, to get mojo bags and beauty potions and love and money charms and all that jazz. Miss Lee deems herself the one who gets to decide who gets what magical mojo and what doesn't--wouldn't do to push the Buzzards too far on their demands, after all. The main Buzzard running the show these days, Sam (Doc Buzzard, the one who made the deal, seems to mostly reside off stage), seems like a nice and reasonable dude. But his sister Sina --the only Buzzard who actually uses magic on herself, and think about that life choice for awhile--is the one everyone goes to behind Miss Lee's back to get the forbidden shit.
The Magnolias are a generational society, which means that all female descendants are automatically Magnolias, whether they want to be or not. Which means that Alex is a Magnolia, like it or not. She's immediately teamed with the other two Magnolia teenagers of her generation, Hayes and Madison. Hayes is actually pretty sweet and nice under the circumstances, Madison is difficult and cranky and clearly wouldn't touch Alex with a fifty-foot pole were she not forced to. But the two take Alex under their wing and attempt to break her into Savannah society and how Magnolias are supposed to act. This is not as insufferable as it seems, since the stylist they bring her to actually tries to work with Alex's fondness for vintage band T-shirts and doesn't totally turn her into a pod person.
For maybe about 5/8 of the book, Alex resists the siren call of the hoodoo. To be fair, it takes her awhile to find out about it officially, though there's obvious red flags of "seriously, what's going on here?" moments. I will say that even though Alex is the sort of person who might annoy a reader--yes, she does do the preachy "but what about the environment?" stuff, but given her upbringing and the world she's been moved to, that's reasonable--I thought she seemed like a nice person. And while Miss Lee starts out obviously dubious, she has her moments in which I kinda liked her. For example, Miss Lee is totally on the side of gay people and changed churches due to that--and wouldn't have minded if Alex brought home a mild-mannered nice girl. When she wants to buy Alex a car (Alex has a license?!? I seriously wonder about this one) and Alex wants a bike instead, she gets a bike. And when Alex hits her limit and uses her new credit card to fly home to California, her grandmother decides to do it differently than she did with her daughter and just let the kid go and decide for herself if she wants to come back. Since her home has gone full-on pot farm and her boyfriend turned out to be a cheater, Alex goes back...and finds out first hand about the joys of hoodoo.
From that point on, it's a fast, slippery slope into true Magnolia behavior. After getting a magical makeover in which she gets her normal hair back and loses 20 pounds, she gets into the whole thing, as you do. Unfortunately, Alex goes nearly instantly from there into scary behavior. Specifically, she suddenly wants to put a romantic charm on her new boyfriend, even though (a) he's had the romantic charm put on him before and he HATED IT, (b) he swore he'd never date another Magnolia because of that, and (c) she promised she wouldn't. What the fuck, Alex? And as the novel careens toward the end, there's suddenly heavy revelations all over the place, and Alex veers back and forth a bit too much. It gets a little weird and nuts and I admit I had a bit of a hard time following the choices she was making all of a sudden. But I"ll get into that below the spoiler cut.
Overall, I'll give it three and a half stars. It's an intriguing world that the story takes place in--disturbing and fascinating at once. And Alex is a sympathetic character. It'd be four stars except that the ending gets a little Vampire Diaries whiplash crazy and confusing.