Southern belle author Katie Crouch takes a trip to hoodoo country 

Teenage Wasteland

Most of us wouldn't find our high school diaries good for anything besides a few chuckles, but Katie Crouch salvaged something worthwhile from her scribblings: inspiration for her new young adult novel, The Magnolia League.

Known for bestselling Southern chick lit novels like Girls in Trucks and Men and Dogs, Crouch veers into uncharted territory with the book, which is set for a May 3 release from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Magnolia centers around Alexandra Lee, a 16-year-old dreadlocked hippie chick from California who moves in with her grande-dame grandmother in Savannah after her mother dies.

"Alex came very easily for me," Crouch says. "Everyone has gone through an awkward teenager phase, so I actually read through a lot of my high school diaries and drew the voice from there. The sort of youthful exuberance, very worried about boys and how she looks and that kind of thing."

After moving to the South, Alex is thrust into the world of the local debutante society called the Magnolia League, and she soon discovers a mysterious secret that keeps its members young, beautiful, and powerful for longer than they deserve.

As with her previous novels, Crouch draws from her childhood in Charleston to describe Southern high society. Though now based in San Francisco, the author lived in the Lowcountry from the time she was 8 months old through high school, when she attended Porter-Gaud. Although she spent most of her formative years in the Holy City and was close friends with members of the upper echelons of local society, she was always considered an outsider.

"I was very much a fish out of water, not from Charleston, so I was always sort of keenly aware of the traditions, the strange customs," Crouch says. "I went through all of the steps of it, but mostly as an observer, not as a participant.

"I just felt like an observer, which is probably why I'm a writer now," she adds.

The outsider theme is nothing new to Crouch novels. In Girls in Trucks, Charleston belle Sarah Walters struggles to find a new life in New York City, while in Men and Dogs, Hannah Legare leaves San Francisco and returns to her hometown of Charleston, which has changed in the years since she's been away.

"I think I play with that a lot because that's something I've experienced myself, being a Southerner who's left the South," Crouch says. "I'm trying to define my space, and I find that no matter what I do I still revisit this often in my fiction and writing."

While she revisits familiar themes in The Magnolia League, this is the first time Crouch has written about the supernatural.

"I was not planning on having a supernatural theme in this," Crouch laughs. "I was approached and asked to write a young adult novel by my publisher, because Girls in Trucks has a lot of chapters about teenagers and young love and sex. So I started writing this and sort of did it for my own entertainment.

"I'm not a science fiction reader, but I did do my thesis on the Gullah culture and hoodoo religion of the Sea Islands so I know a lot about it, and it just seemed to fit, especially with Savannah," she adds. "It just gave me a lot more to work with than just girl, angst, and high school."

The Magnolia League will continue as a series for at least two more installments, and, appropriately, Crouch has tapped a high school friend to help her write the next books and stick with the challenging deadlines. Grady Hendrix attended Porter-Gaud with Crouch, and he now lives in New York, where he works as a journalist and screenwriter. Despite the quick turnaround time, Crouch says she's enjoying the challenge of the new series.

"I have a lot more fun with it, honestly, because I let myself go a little bit more," Crouch says. "I'm really glad I got to write this series, because I am going to put a little bit of magic in my next adult book, kind of a magical realism thing."

Her next adult novel will be set in Beaufort, in accordance with Crouch's pledge to stop writing books about her hometown.

"I have sort of made this unofficial promise to my mother not to write about Charleston anymore," Crouch says. "But rules are made to be broken, so we'll see."

Katie Crouch Book Signing. Sat. April 30, 1-3 p.m. Blue Bicycle Books. 420 King St. (843) 722-2666.


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