By Lisa Van Allen.
In Tarrytown, New York, there's a home/business called The Stitchery. Throughout the years, the Van Ripper ladies have been knitting bespelled garments for people upon request. You may or may not pay them money, but you will have to sacrifice an object of yours that has great sentimental value for the project--and while the ladies will hold on to it forever, you can't get it back ever. Without the sacrifice, they don't think the magic will work. And alas, there are no guarantees and no take-backs if it doesn't. The Stitchery is a run-down house in a run-down artist/hippie enclave known as Tappan Square, and the city Powers That Be are looking to tear it all down to build shopping centers and retiree homes and the like.
The story kicks off when family aunt and matriarch figure Mariah Van Ripper drops dead while yelling at the mayor about his plan. She leaves The Stitchery to all three of her nieces--not just Aubrey, the one everyone expected it to go to. One girl in every generation is destined to be the heir to The Stitchery and (presumably) to give up the rest of her life to knitting spells for people. The heir develops an unusual magical trait, such as smelling like roses all the time (Mariah) or developing incredibly eerie blue eyes (Aubrey).
Aubrey and her sisters grew up being raised by Mariah after their rebel mom Lila disappeared and was presumed dead, but her sisters basically flew the coop as soon as they could. Oldest sister Bitty became completely disillusioned about magic and made sure to run off and marry a well-to-do guy and settle down and have his kids instead. Youngest sister Meggie split as soon as she turned 18 to roam around the country, secretly looking for her missing mother. After Mariah's death, they return to Tarrytown and find out that The Stitchery can only be sold with the agreement of all three parties. Of course Aubrey doesn't want to sell, but the other sisters would be much more inclined to. And even if the sisters agree one way or the other, they may not get a choice about keeping the building when the town wants to demolish everything.
Bitty's marriage has been crumbling for awhile, and she's brought her two kids, Nessa and Carson, along with her. Nessa already feels the call to learn to knit, which Bitty is decidedly unthrilled about. Meggie finds herself bonding with Carson and reuniting with her long-lost best friend, but this conflicts with her inner need to chase after her mother, wherever she ended up. And Aubrey, who's been considered a freak for most of her life due to The Stitchery and her eyes, is falling in love with a nice fellow named Vic. But is the guardian of The Stitchery even allowed to fall in love at all? And when Aubrey gets the whopping idea to try to save Tappan Square with a giant amount of knitting....what is she going to do for a sacrifice? Ouch, indeed. And can it even work? I was reminded of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie arguments over whether or not it was okay to sacrifice dating Mary Jane without oh, asking her if she wanted to risk it first.
This is the sort of "magic realism" book, kind of along the lines of things written by Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen. Except this story is much more on the side of realism. In those other books, magic seems guaranteed. In this world, however, the only clearly magic things are Mariah's brief ghostly appearances and the traits of the guardians and heirs. Other than that, it's a crapshoot as to whether or not the magic will work--and you could just as easily argue that it didn't do anything even if you got what you wanted. Just like real life--which could be good or bad, I don't know. But it's realistic. I think the knitting magic system is worked out well, though I did wonder at the nature of the sacrifices, some of which are incredibly hardcore (for example, the family founder aborted a wanted child to do a spell to keep her husband alive during wartime). Like real life, who knows if it'll work or not? Especially if the odds are against you. I was reminded of reading the Summoning series, which works on possibilities. If there's a possibility that the magic can kick the outcome to the side you want, then it may work. If there isn't and the odds/numbers are against you, then...well, it won't.
While Bitty and Meggie come to their own resolutions about what to do with their lives, the story really felt like it was Aubrey's. Can she keep The Stitchery? Does she even want to? She wants Vic, but can she balance the two? What sacrifices are required of people in order to get what they want? And how do you deal with utter heartbreak and loss--and the hope that might come after that loss? In the end, she manages to find a place of peace within herself to deal with all of those conflicts, and how to deal with real life and real people instead of hiding away. It's a good journey for her, and I will admit that the book went to a few places that I did not expect it to go. And yet it ends on a good note, for all that I've probably made it sound like kind of a downer. This book isn't a downer, but it is realistic for what it is.
Oh yeah, and there is much yarn bombing, and I loved that.
Overall, I think I'm going to give it three and a half stars. I did feel like it was a little less deep in places--Bitty and Meggie kind of get short shrift compared to Aubrey, and when they're supposed to be main characters, I think that lessens the book a little. But it's a good read and I recommend it to other yarnies.