Book Review: The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

Rebecca Wells

Harper

416 pages

My name is Calla Lily Ponder.  I was born in 1953 in La Luna, Louisiana , on the banks of the La Luna River.  That is where my mother cut and curled hair, and my father and mother together taught tango, waltz and the Cajun two-step.  They said they named me for their favorite flower because they wanted me to spiral open into radiant beauty inside and out.  Even when I was born, a red, tiny, hollering thing, they claimed they could see the beautiful, creamy-colored, velvety bloom of a calla lily.

And that is how The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder, by Rebecca Wells, begins.  You’ll notice that two major symbols in the book—hair and the moon (which is tied in with La Luna River) are thrown out in the very first paragraph.  In fact, the book eventually seems to be overrun with references to hair and the moon.

The book is basically just a story about the life of one Calla Lily Ponder, a girl trying to learn from life experiences and grow as a person while battling with everyday circumstances, albeit quite a few tough ones along the way.  She is originally from a small town in Louisiana , called La Luna, where her parents own a dance studio and her mother is a hairdresser.  Calla grows up seeing the revitalizing effect hairdressers have on people’s lives, so she is determined to cut hair herself.  After high school, Calla moves to New Orleans in order to study at a prestigious beauty academy.  Eventually, after years away from home, Calla eventually moves back to La Luna towards the end of the book.

There were a few aspects I liked about the book.  The first was the setting of Louisiana , in particular, New Orleans .  New Orleans is one of my favorite cities and it is so rich with history and culture, so I am often drawn to books where New Orleans is the backdrop.  I am also drawn to coming of age novels, of which Calla Lily Ponder clearly fit the bill.  I enjoyed reading about Calla growing up in a small town and eventually moving to New Orleans at the start of the ‘70s.  The atmosphere of the time period made the novel more engaging.

My biggest problem with the book is I found it to be somewhat trite and oversimplified.  At times the prose were so sugary sweet that they bordered on nauseating.  I think that Wells created a world, and a person, that is unrealistic and unfathomable.  I could not relate with Calla Lily at all and many times I found her to be downright silly and naïve.

At the same time, there were some good lessons to be learned from Calla Lily Ponder.  Although I would throw Calla Lily’s mom in the above category, with being overly simplified (and was I the only one who thought it was strange and annoying that Calla Lily called her mom M’Dear?!), her mother, Lenora, may have been my favorite character in the book.  I appreciated her gentle nature and the life lessons she was trying to teach Calla.

I took major offense with the ending.  I kid you not when I say the most obvious endings usually smack me in the face—it takes a really blatant ending for me to comprehend it beforehand.  The ending of Calla Lily Ponder was so obvious I could have guessed it in the first few chapters—in fact, I did!  Now sure, it wasn’t meant to be a mystery novel, but still.  If you can guess what happens at the end before you even get to the end, where is the fun in that??  So I was pretty disappointed.

I have never read anything by Rebecca Wells, although we all know The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood was very popular.  If the writing style of Calla Lily Ponder is at all indicative of Rebecca Wells’ general writing technique, I really have no interest in reading anything else by her.

Other reviews:

Tiny Little Reading Room

She Treads Softly

Five Borough Book Review

I borrowed this book from my library
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4 Responses

  1. Sorry to hear this isn’t great. I enjoyed (but didn’t love) the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, so I had high hopes for this one.

  2. I haven’t read anything by her either, and really didn’t like the Ya-Ya movie (couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about). I love the cover of the book, but I think the predictability and the sugary prose would be too much of a turn off for me.

  3. I LOVE the Ya-Ya books so I’ve been meaning to get to this one eventually. I’m sorry you didn’t love it, but your review gives it enough of a positive feel that I’ll probably read it anyway. 🙂

  4. Writing style is not necessarily Well’s strong suite but Divine Secrets was such a fun and unique story that I was able to overlook the faults. Sounds like this one is not one that will do that for me.

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