I hesitate to use the word “magical” to describe this book, if only because it’s right there in the title and I don’t like to be redundant. But there really is something magical about it, a quality that I have seen in fairy tales and folklore but rarely executed with any success in contemporary novels.

Sisters Sally and Gillian are the descendants of a long line of beautiful, impetuous and independent Owens women. It is a matriarchal line, with each female descendant carrying the Owens name despite paternity, and with this name comes the weight of history and more than a few hints of witchcraft. The sisters are, as Hoffman describes, night and day; Sally is dark, calm and responsible, while fiery Gillian runs wild and breaks hearts at a whim. As children, they are shunned and taunted, and they desire nothing more than to be normal throughout their lives. But the prosaic is rarely in the cards for an Owens woman.

This is one of my favorite books of all-time. I read it for the first time when I was about 14, and was blown away. I've probably read it at least four times since then, and it remains enchanting each time. What really drew me in is the subtle hints of magical realism that permeate the story and give it a fairy-tale quality, while it still reflects "real" life in it's dilemmas and triumphs. Hoffman often writes in a style that allows the everyday to become subtly infused with just a hint of the mystical, keeping it just below the surface and subdued enough that it doesn't overpower the elements that are truly important, and this is one of the reasons she is among my top 10 favorite authors.