Title: The Sugar Queen
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Genre: Southern Fiction
Release Date: May 20th, 2008
Source: Personal Copy
What's it about? In The Sugar Queen, Allen's second published novel, we are introduced to Josie Cirrini. Being the daughter of the man who single-handedly revitalized Bald Slope, the late Marco Cirrini, has placed her in a spotlight that she would rather not grace. As a child Josie was less than pleasant to her family, friends or people in the town, and even though she changed her ways after the death of her father she still is unable to shed such a negative public persona especially, it seems, with her own mother.
Now, twenty-eight year old Josie lives at home and tends to her mother as a personal assistant shuttling her to hair appointments, luncheons and town errands in a never-ending quest to receive the forgiveness that she so desperately seeks. In the meantime, Josie fills the void with candy and junk food, travel magazines and trashy romance novels, which she keeps hidden behind a secret panel in the back of her closet, instead of living her own life outside her childhood home. Then one day everything changes with the arrival of Della Lee. Josie wakes one morning to find her hiding out in her closet, and, unsure of what to do, goes back and forth on whether to tell anyone. Della Lee is someone to talk to other than her mother and a part of Josie wants to help this poor woman from whatever she is hiding from.
As the days pass on, the woman hiding in the closet helps Josie on her road to find herself, and gives her the push she needs to spread her wings starting with Chloe, a young woman tormented by books that keep appearing out of thin air, who works at the local sandwich shop. Add in Adam, a local mailman and town transplant who quickly captures Josie's affections, and you've got the playful, heartwarming and at times difficult tale of a young woman on the verge of becoming comfortable in her own skin.
What did I think? Finally, I have done it. I have completed all of Sarah Addison Allen's novels. Ever since reading and thoroughly enjoying The Girl Who Chased the Moon last year I have been intent of reading everything she has written. Her playful stories always include a touch of magic but not in an obtrusive or integral way to the narrative. Kinda like a little cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. The treat would still be great without it, but the addition seems to complete everything. Plus, the quote below is an awesome justification for me to have shelves and shelves of books!
Books can be possessive, can't they? You're walking around in a bookstore and a certain one will jump out at you, like it had moved there on its own, just to get your attention. Sometimes what's inside will change your life, but sometimes you don't even have to read it. Sometimes it's a comfort just to have books around. Many of these books haven't even had their spines cracked. 'Why do you buy books you don't even read?' our daughter asks us. That's like asking someone who lives alone why they bought a cat. For company, of course.
I will say that The Sugar Queen was my least favorite of her novels. I wasn't as enchanted with the characters like I have been in others, and throughout a lot of the story I felt a disconnect. The cynic in me doesn't believe the almost instantaneous bond that formed between Josie and Chloe. Friendships are so much harder to cultivate and blossom than just ordering a sandwich a few times. Eventually Josie, Chloe, Della Lee and the rest of the gang did grow on me, and much of that I attribute to the multiple POVs. Each character gets a chance to tell his or her story, adding another layer of understanding for the reader. The narrative was predictable but in a good way. I don't think many people read SAA's work for crazy plot twists.
In the end, The Sugar Queen was a feel-good novel just this shy of sentimental. A young woman trapped in her house by an unforgiving mother yearning for friends and romance. The heroine is given the Rapunzel fairy tale treatment on her way to love and self discovery. Even though I'm the same age, watching Josie take those first steps toward freedom made me feel like a proud mother. In many ways I can relate to her character so watching her succeed felt like a win for all of us shy and socially awkward ladies out there. This whimsical tale made me tingle with warm and happy feelings, and I devoured it in about a day.
Recommend? Yes - if you are in the mood to indulge in an exceptionally sugary treat or if you are already a fan of Sarah Addison Allen's work.