Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen


The Sugar Queen
By: Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 978-0-553-38484-0

About the book:

Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she's a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother's house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes into each night....Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis - and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee's tough love, Josey's narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them - and who has a close connection to Josey's long-time crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that's just for starters.

Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love - and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.

Review:

Josey Cirrini lives a quiet, unremarkable life in the small Southern town of Bald Slope, NC, caring for her elderly (and domineering) mother, Margaret. When she’s not catering to Margaret’s every whim, attempting to make up for being a disappointing child, she escapes into her secret closet refuge, stocked to overflowing with romance novels and every variety of candy imaginable. Josey’s predictable existence starts to unravel the morning she discovers the bold and brassy Della Lee, a local waitress, has taken up residence in her closet and refuses to leave. Desperate to rid herself of the unwanted closet squatter and afraid Della will expose her secret affinity for sweets to the world, Josey reluctantly finds herself acquiescing to Della’s demands. Della’s unique brand of tough love gradually chips away at the carefully set boundaries of Josey’s life. For the first time in her nearly 30 years, Josey gains a friend – Chloe, a sandwich shop owner suffering from her own heartbreak, who mysteriously attracts books, and her secret crush, Adam the mailman, starts to notice her existence as more than just another stop on his route. When painful family secrets come to light, Josey must decide if she’s ready to shed the shackles of her past and live life to the fullest, embracing risk and devouring the delicious possibilities of the unknown, or remain content with the status quo. But can she take that first brave step?

Oh how I loved this book. After seeing a lot of buzz around the blogosphere about Sarah Addison Allen’s fiction, I decided to give the author a try – and I can honestly say that I have never, ever read a book that captivated me from the start like The Sugar Queen. It sounds so clich├ęd to say this, but it is truly magical in every sense of the word. Magical and yet heart-breaking, real and honest and authentic, brimming with Southern charm and characters so real and wonderful it almost hurts to read about them. Allen’s writing is like comfort food without the calories. For all of Josey’s quirks and her rather eccentric upbringing, Allen never makes you pity her – because she’s so emotionally honest, you can’t help but relate to Josey’s growing pains as she comes into her own. Allen deftly explores the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, the push-and-pull that can make or break them, never resorting to cardboard characters or caricatures. And she has to be one of the masters at writing restrained, but passionate romantic tension. The delicate dance Josey and Adam engage in as they slowly, hesitantly, begin to wake up to the possibilities within each other is simply gorgeous to witness.
The Sugar Queen is deceptively, beautifully simple. Allen possesses a gift for revealing the magic inherent in everyday, ordinary things – like the power of books, the color red, or the delivery of the mail. The residents of Bald Slope, from the fledgling Josey, who simply needed a little push to spread her wings, to Chloe, who had to rediscover herself after losing her essence in the overwhelming passion of love and heartbreak, are achingly real, raw and honest characters. Even the unlikable characters, that could have been cartoonish villains, are drawn with depth and richness on the page. I loved the way the chapter titles, named for Josey’s beloved candies, tie into the action that follows. The candy that once gave Josey fulfillment now chronicle her liberation – a clever touch. While this is a relatively short novel (just under 300 pages), Allen’s prose unfolds with the leisurely pace of a lazy summer afternoon, every word and action deliberately and powerfully placed in the narrative. This whimsical modern-day fairy tale absorbed me from start to finish with its charm and dash of magic. Allen’s characters are rare jewels, leaving me enriched for having spent time in their company. One thing I can promise you, it won’t be long before I lose myself in the pages of one of Sarah Addison Allen’s novels again.

11 comments:

Kristin said...

This sounds really good! I haven't read any of her books, but I've always thought the covers were so beautiful. I just looked online and my library has a few of her books, including this one. I might have to check them out next time I'm there. :)

~Kristin

Joanne said...

You know, Ruth, I have passed by her books so many times in the bookstores and never felt compelled to explore her writing. Now, I'm hearing how wonderful and magical her writing is, and I could kick myself. I just picked up her newest book, The Peach Keeper, so I'm looking forward to seeing what the buzz is about. It looks like I need to add more to my TBR pile! Thanks for the great review. ;)

Ruth said...

@Kristin - Oh, I hope you decide to try her books. The covers are gorgeous, aren't they? LOVE this one for The Sugar Queen. Just an FYI, there is a wee bit of language and sex (nothing explicit).

@Joanne - Oh, I think you would love her stuff! I had seen her books around but never felt compelled to try them out, either. But a friend of mine read The Peach Keeper for her blog tour, and raved and RAVED about it - and since I trust said friend's bookish judgement I knew I had to see what the fuss was about. :)

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

"The Sugar Queen is deceptively, beautifully simple."

Amen. Great review. This is one of my all time favs.

Ruth said...

@Juju - Thanks. :) Glad to know another SAA fan!

Emilie said...

Wouaw, amazing review :-)
I write it down, no doubt!

I've another title of this author in my TBR pile. I think in English its title is "Garden Spells". The French translation isn't exactly the same so I'm not sure...

But anyway, thank your for this one, it's a total discovery for me. But as we say, never too late...

PS: sorry for my poor English, and if there are some mistakes...
http://ohmybooks.hautetfort.com

Ruth said...

@Emilie - Garden Spells is Allen's first book, I believe - I want to read them all now. And yes, never too late, better late than never! :)

And you don't have to apologize at all, I can understand you just fine! Thanks as always for taking the time to comment! :)

Ruth @ Bookish Ruth said...

I read Garden Spells last year after owning it for two, and by the third chapter or so I was kicking myself for not reading it sooner. I love how effortlessly Allen builds her world - the fantastic and the realistic are perfectly at home with each other.

Ruth said...

@Ruth - I am trying to decide between Garden Spells and the Girl/Moon book (can't remember the exact title) for my next Allen read. Allen's world building is so effortless as you so well say - the blend of fantasy and reality is a heady one. :)

Elaine J. Dalton said...

This sounds like a fun book; I'll have to look for it sometime. ;) Good job on the review!

Ruth said...

@Elaine - Thanks! I hope you enjoy it. :) I'm determined to read the rest of SAA's books soon.