The Sugar Queen is a lovely story that takes place in the mountains of North Carolina. It primarily follows the story of four women, Josey Cirrini, her mother Margaret, Della Lee Baker, and Chloe Finley.
Josey has lived most of her life making up for her childhood tantrums. She doesn't know why she was so terrible, but her reputation was set early and the town can't seem to forget it; neither will her mother. Her mother, always a beautiful women (just as lovely now, even in her 70s), treats her like a servant and belittles her at every chance. So Josey finds sanctuary in a little secret hideaway; in a hidden section of her closet she has created a haven filled with books, travel magazines, and most importantly, sweets. Cookies, candies, sodas - food to make her feel better.
So imagine her surprise when she enters her closet and finds a woman inside.
This story focuses on the issues these women are facing and how they are able to move past them. Della Lee, the woman in the closet, tries to break Josey out of her shell. She encourages her to meet Chloe and pursue her mailman (whom Josey has loved since they first met). Chloe has problems of her own. Her boyfriend, a man she was deeply in love with, cheated on her. Their relationship was so passionate and intense that it always left her feeling off-centered, but she never thought he'd cheat and it breaks her heart. Margaret was forced into marriage with Marco Cirrini (dead long before our story begins), the man who reinvigorated the town and made it prosper. She'd felt love only once, and not with her husband, and the years have made her bitter. Della Lee had a tough life - her mother was certifiable, and Della Lee lived wildly. Now she's trying to help Josey and, through Josey, Chloe live their lives to the fullest.
There is magic, both in the story and in Allen's prose. The touches of magic in the story don't seem out of place; they seem to oddly fit, as though it's right that good things happen to Josey when she wears her red sweater, that the men in a certain family in this town always keep their promises, and my personal favorite, that books appear when Chloe needs them. In fact, throughout this story Chloe is stalked by several self-help books, trying to help her forgive. They appear at her diner, next to her at a bar, and follow her throughout her apartment (but they won't go into the bathroom except in emergencies - they don't like the water).
I found Allen's prose to be lovely. This is where my warning from the blog title comes into play; as this book is titled The Sugar Queen, much of what Allen writes has a connection to sweets. Each chapter is titled with a type of candy, and generally connects to the chapter somehow (examples include "Everlasting Gobstoppers" and "Sugar Daddy"). This is also found in the prose itself. Beware her descriptions, they will make you hungry: "If she could eat the cold air, she would. She thought cold snaps were like cookies, like gingersnaps. In her mind they were made with white chocolate chunks and had a cool, brittle vanilla frosting. They melted like snow in her mouth, turning creamy and warm," and "Josey shook her head, thinking, if Della Lee were a candy, she would be a SweeTart. Not the hard kind that broke your teeth, the chewy kind, the kind you had to work on and mull over, your eyes watering and your lips turning up into a smile you didn't want to give." Instead of describing someone's dark hair in terms of the night like you may find in other stories (particularly the romances), here it's described as "warm chocolate-cake brown."
While this story does include a bit of romance, the main focus is on these four women. The focus changes between them, so you get a first-hand account of how each are feeling and the circumstances that have led them to this point. The story wraps things up well, though things aren't all perfect; like real life, some things can't be fixed in the course of a few months (the timeframe of this novel), but there's hope that someday they will.
This is the second of Allen's books, a follow up to Garden Spells. They both have a similar feel and the same touch of magic, and both are centered in a small (but different) North Carolina town, but they are otherwise unconnected. Allen's books fits in the Women's Lives and Relationships genre, though it skims both Fantasy and Romance, and sits on the outskirts of Gentle Reads. She has a third book coming out this March, The Girl Who Chased the Moon. As I adored both Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen, I will definitely be picking up Moon from my local library.
Title: The Sugar Queen
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Bantam (May 20, 2008)