The Sugar Queen / Sarah Addison Allen. 2008
Sarah Addison Allen’s first book, Garden Spells, was one of my 5 Phaves for July. I eagerly looked forward to her 2nd book, The Sugar Queen, and I was not at all disappointed. This is a wonderful novel of a woman shut off from life who comes into her own. Along the way, issues of love, sisterhood, familial responsibility, forgiveness, food, and living life on your own terms are explored. Somehow, Ms. Addison manages to weave all of these themes into this relatively short book while telling a delightful story with warm, engaging characters.
Aside—I wish I belonged to a book club. Either one of her books would make a terrific book club selection. There’s a lot to talk about.
Josey is the sugar queen. She’s a 27-year old woman very much under her mother’s thumb. She still lives at home and spends her days doing whatever her mother asks her to do. Josey has virtually no life of her own, except for her very secret stash of sweets, romance novels, and travel magazines that are all hidden away in her closet. When Josey needs to escape the confines of her life, she finds comfort in the food and reading material in her closet. One day Josey comes home to find a strange woman in her closet. Della Lee is everything Josey isn’t—bold and opinionated—and she threatens to expose Josey’s secrets if Josey doesn’t let her stay for a few days. Soon, Josey finds herself running a few errands for Della Lee and in the process Josey makes a new friend. One thing leads to another as Josey finds her wings. She finds herself getting to know her mailman, Adam, someone she's secretly been in love with for years. She also begins to explore the truth of her relationship with her long-dead father, and standing up to her domineering mother. She also learns more about who Della Lee is and why she's in Josey's closet. It’s hard to say more without venturing into spoiler territory.
Since this book is primarily about Josey’s journey of self-discovery and emergence, the romantic relationship is just one facet of this story. So this is not technically a romance novel. But it does have strong romantic elements and is just so charmingly and creatively written that it’s as satisfying as one could wish for. The chapters are named for various candies (e.g. Sweet Tarts, Mr. Goodbar) and cleverly reflect the themes of the chapters.
There’s just enough information at Ms. Allen’s website to indicate that her next book is about BBQ. Clearly Ms. Allen is using food and our love of it as an enduring theme to run through her books. As someone who loves food as much as the next person, I’m all over that. Meanwhile, I highly recommend this one to you.