Wednesday, February 17, 2010


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 to 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 longtime 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.

I went into this book kind of the same way I go into candy stores – not knowing what exactly I’m going to get, but expecting it to somehow taste good.

- What I liked best about The Sugar Queen was Sarah Addison Allen’s writing style. Her prose is simple yet really elegant and also packed with all sorts of literary techniques that will have English teachers squealing in delight. There are several times when this book just seems so savory! I am probably going overboard on the references to sweets, but come on, sweets play a major role! And so do books. Bloggy buddies, we all can probably see a little of Chloe in ourselves when it comes to her “relationship” with books! There are also several passages in my copy that are underlined; not only does Allen have an amazing style of prose, but she is so good about conveying the messages and themes of her story. Unlike candy, The Sugar Queen is not all fluff and sweets: there are important lessons that can be learned from the stories of all the characters.

- Characterization is another of Allen’s strong suits. She is able to take several characters, give them all important stories, connect them all together and yet keep them somehow independent. Josey Cirrini – a 27year old “this side of plump” young woman with a penchant for sweets and romance novels is the main character, but the omniscient perspective of the story follows pretty much every character at least once – I counted at least 7 perspectives by the end. While it was certainly interesting to get the dibs on every major character in this small town, and watch their emotional growth, it got a bit hectic at times.

For example, if there were 3 people in a scene, the perspective would switch back-and-forth so rapidly that I wasn’t sure who was doing the thinking and the speaking. That’s the downside of omniscience, I guess.

- And also, because each character is explored in such a complex way (kind of like putting characters under a microscope) you really start to develop feelings for all of them. I can’t believe it, but Allen was able to make me sympathetic to characters that I thought I’d already figured out (Jake - for finished readers)! All of her characters are flawed – they all have hurts, habits, and hang-ups that are binding them in some way and keeping them from living their potential. That’s always an interesting thing to see in fiction – particularly grown up fiction. I guess at some point in literary history, characters were idealistic and “super-human,” without faults or weaknesses at all, because now the pendulum has pretty much swung in the clear opposite direction: we have characters who are so flawed they run the risk of being unrelatable. Sure, nobody’s perfect in real life so that needs to be seen in fiction, but if authors “screw up” their characters too much, they lose common ground with the reader. That’s probably my main disappointment when I read – authors write characters who are such screwballs that not only can I not relate, I can’t sympathize. The reason I want to introduce this idea is because Allen does not do that in her book. You can trust me on that – I’ll be the first to say how critical and hard-to-please I am! While I can’t relate specifically to certain characters, like what Chloe is going through (completely dependent on a man and thus in a passionate but one-sided and unhealthy relationship) I can relate to the feeling of not being in control of your own life. I'm sure we all feel that way sometimes. That’s pretty much the theme here – every character, for some reason or another, has a hurt, habit, or hang-up that they’re "in bondage" to. This book is about what happens next. And so I find this book appealing on the broad scale – on the lessons that Allen teaches through the story. And sure, I don’t see eye-to-eye with the author on some plot-y parts of the story, but I definitely am on board with her themes.

So bottom line: I ventured out on a limb with a bona fide adult book and was pleasantly surprised not only by the sweet story and emotion-grabbing characters (you can’t help but cheer for Chloe and Josey and even Della Lee!) but by the substance of the thematic elements. I love books that teach, or at least, books with messages!

Final rating: 4/5. Since this is an adult book, I wasn't surprised to find sex (not explicit but more that 'la la la how romantic!' feel and usually in flashbacks only) and language (I think like 3 'f' words toward the end). I only turn into a screaming banshee when I see that in YA stuff, so I guess I have no complaints. And I love the idea of books being magical, enchanted objects with minds of their own! That in and of itself is a brilliant and endearing concept!
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