The Fairy Tale Girl and Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams must be read together. The two books were originally meant to be one book, but Susan Branch’s life is so packed with living and inspiration that one book quickly became two very powerful volumes overflowing with growth, play, wisdom and a hefty dose of girl power. Though the books are heavy they are equally adorable, easy to tuck into and get lost for hours in. Susan Branch quickly becomes a sister within just a few pages and makes the reader feel like they are as much a part of her life as she is.
The Fairytale Girl is a more than just a memoir of the first 30 years of Susan Branch’s life. Though her childhood is sprinkled throughout, The Fairytale Girl is very much Susan Branch’s journey of self-enlightenment, highlighting the very poignant and inspirational chrysalis years of her first marriage. Though she discovers that she’s spending her life supporting her husband, she wisely doesn’t see this as a flaw in herself. Instead she spins it into the realization that she likes taking care of others, most importantly cooking for others, and making a house a home. In Fairytale Girl, Susan is just beginning to embrace the part of herself that she’s really not that sure of or aware of yet, and is slowly, and rather beautifully, discovering that she wants to turn this gift over to herself and the world to enjoy rather than letting her first husband reap all the benefits. Sure, it takes the brutal and heartbreaking realization that her husband will never be monogamous to push her in this direction. But this new direction gives her wings. And just as The Fairytale Girl concludes the reader is left wondering, what will she do with these new wings? Where will she fly?
To Martha’s Vineyard of course! This is where Californian Susan Branch can enjoy the seasons, serenity and wildness of the island. And through her storytelling, pictures and watercolor the reader flies right along with her, sharing her tears over the separation from her family and friends but delighting in her decision to stay on the island and buy a charming cottage just a few days after landing. The cottage gives shape to Susan Branch’s emerging talents as a writer and artist. She finds herself in the remnants of the previous owner's possessions - a 1950s white enamel gas stove, heaps of books and wild blueberries, and in the process of making it a home, she finds a home in herself.
Imagine, after your lowest moment in life, that you flee to a place that you’ve always wanted to go. Once you’re there you decide it’s where you belong. While you are exploring this new place and your new self you are healing without even knowing it. And you are growing. And one day, during all of this healing and growth you meet the person that you always knew you were. During a meditation class Susan’s teacher asked the class to “make a list of the things [they] didn’t like in [their] lives, and… rewrite the list and change the negatives into positives.” Susan wanted to write a cookbook. So she wrote, “I choose to write a cookbook.” And that’s exactly what she did. Sure, it didn’t happen with a snap of the fingers. She worked endlessly for a year, testing out all of her recipes and once satisfied, decorating each recipe with watercolor, quotes and memories.
But these two books are so much more than Susan’s memories of stretching her watercolor wings and using them to paint millions of sparkly pages to give to the world one book at a time. Each book is packed with ordinary and happy moments like making the first Thanksgiving turkey and accidentally leaving the little baggie inside, twirling cats around on dishtowels, chumming with friends and collecting heart rocks and jingle shells on the beach. You will chide yourself for reading too fast and excitedly and wisely flip back through the pages to examine your favorite pictures and artwork. I spent much time examining Susan Branch’s first art studio and her wedding pictures in The Fairy Tale Girl. And plenty of time absorbing all the homey cottage pictures and kitty watercolors in Martha’s Vineyard. Perhaps it’s fair to say that I spent just as much time tracing the borders and pondering the artwork and pictures as I did reading these two books. I truly believe Susan Branch’s journey into self and gifting that splendid self to the world will inspire your own personal growth and give you cause to celebrate your own colorful and vibrant wings. I may never move to an island, cook more than toast, find myself needing her recipe for starting over or convince a cat to hop on a towel for a ride, but I know that my life is richer, my connection to others stronger and my own set of wings just a few pages thicker after reading The Fairytale Girl and Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams.