Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

After really enjoying Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells, I reserved her other book, The Sugar Queen from the library. This is a winter book, set around Thanksgiving in North Carolina and, while setting doesn't usually affect me, reading it in a New Zealand summer felt a little strange. All the same, I was soon enjoying reading about Josey Cirrini, only daughter of a rich, aging mother who controls her life yet refuses to show any appreciation for her daughter's efforts. Joesy's only rebellion is her secret stash of sweets and romance novels in her closet. However, these become unavailable to her when local waitress Della Lee Baker takes up residence there. Della Lee forces Josey out into the world and Josey soon finds herself making new friends, including heart-broken Chloe who magically attracts books and the Adam the mailman, on whom Josey has had a crush for years. This is a book about family and relationships, love and pain and starting over, spiced up with some facing up to unwanted truths.

Again, the magic realism in the book is mild - even more mild than in Garden Spells, which I didn't think was possible. The most "gifted" character is Chloe, who is haunted by books. Whether she wants them to or not, books simply appear in her vicinity, their subjects potentially relevant to her situation at that moment. She has a whole storage shed of books waiting for her to find a home for them, something Chloe does indeed do in the course of the book.

I have to admit that I wasn't as enamoured of this novel as was the case with Garden Spells. The characters and setting didn't resonate with me in quite the same way and there were times when I considered leaving the book and trying something else. All the same, I am very glad I persevered. The book comes into its own as it reaches the conclusion and, as I look back a couple of weeks later (yes, I'm late with my book comments again) I find myself thinking fondly of the characters and feeling glad that they all reached the endings they did. I'm certainly still looking forward to reading Allen's next book and she has joined the list of authors whose books I keep an eye out for.

I guessed the main twist of the book fairly early on, but that didn't hurt the story. Instead, it became a case of looking for evidence to see if I was correct or not. Josey was a pleasant character, quiet and hesitant at the beginning, who needed the push Della Lee gave her to start questioning her life and trying to change it. She resists that change at first, not really believing it is for her, and it was nice to see her begin to find herself throught he course of the book. I liked the story and do recommend it, but if you only want to try on of Allen's books, I'd point you towards Garden Spells rather than The Sugar Queen.

The Sugar Queen
Sarah Addison Allen

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