'The Crowning Glory of Calla Lilly Ponder' by Rebecca Wells

Girlfriends and a goddess

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Rebecca Wells' 1996 best-selling novel "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" sparked a series of mother-daughter tales centered around the same characters, including a 2002 film.

While her latest is a coming-of-age story with a new set of characters, Wells continues her themes of mother-daughter relationships and the importance of girlfriends who function as sisters.

Set in fictional La Luna, La., the novel follows Calla Lily Ponder through heartbreak by her high school sweetheart, Tuck, to New Orleans, where she attends beauty school and her eventual return home.

Woven throughout are references to the Moon Lady, the goddess of sorts to whom Calla Lily and her mother pray. Most characters also seem to have an overwhelming respect for La Luna River, which flows into the Mississippi.

By Rebecca Wells
HarperCollins ($25.99)

References to the Christian God are few and far between; the Moon Lady and the river function as the major religious symbols.

The novel oscillates between legitimate tear-jerker moments and cringe-inducing, folksy dialogue such as this, following the scenes when Tuck breaks Calla Lily's heart. She and her friends get together to exact revenge.

" 'Hey ya'll, I've got an idea,' (friend) Sukey said. 'Let's get out the yearbook, and start tearing his pictures out!' "

Movie-script segments are hard to miss. In one, Calla Lily and Sukey are in a vintage clothing store, trying on feather boas and fedoras and "a mauve silk full-length dress that looked like a nightgown," lending itself perfectly to a cheesy montage of clothes flying out of dressing rooms and giggling girls posing in front of mirrors.

Despite the corny conversations and film-script descriptions, Wells, writes genuinely about her native Louisiana. The weather, the geography and the culture are detailed with great care.

It's hard not to fall in love with the people in this magical place, where love is as plentiful as the dancing, gumbo and ice-cold Cokes.

"Crowning Glory," much like the books from the "Ya-Ya" series, is a perfect beach read about mothers and friends and sisters, and the well-worn pages will surely be passed among mothers and friends and sisters.

Annie Tubbs can be reached at atubbs@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613.


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