The Sugar Queen is book 9 in the #20BooksofSummer challenge @SarahAddisonAll

Content warning: brief fat shaming and a controlling parent who manipulates her child by belittling her.

Many of my blog friends squeed when they heard I was going to read The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. Apparently, Addison Allen is a beloved author, whom I’ve never heard of! The Sugar Queen was added to my Fat Reads challenge because, if I remember correctly, it is included on several Goodreads lists of “plus-size protagonists” or other such lists. Side note: why are those lists STILL full of erotica? Hooray, fat girls, but we’re not fantasy fodder. While The Sugar Queen is not focused on fat, it is a beautiful novel.

Josey is a wealthy girl whose now-deceased father made their North Carolina town prosperous by setting up a ski resort. He was in his late 60s when Josey was born, and Josey’s mother was 47, making this an unconventional set of parents. Side note: When I was in elementary school, I knew a girl whose father was in his 40s, and I figured he was so old he might as well be dust. It’s nice to see a book that shows different kinds of families. The Sugar Queen begins with Josey in her room, delighted that it’s getting frosty outside. But when she opens her closet, there sits Della Lee, a waitress who is “rough and flashy and did whatever she wanted.” Della Lee becomes the pervading clairvoyant in Josey’s closet, guiding Josey into the arms of new relationships, causing the 27-year-old heiress to be braver. As is, Josey is meek and obedient because when she was a child, she was the most horrible child in the whole town — that is, until her father died — and no one has forgotten. Josey feels she must make up 9 years of bad behavior to her mother by being a companion/servant, one who must care for her mother until the mother’s death and experience no life of her own until then.

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The Sugar Queen masterfully uses magical realism, and I love me some magical realism. Josey has a lucky red sweater, but at first it’s easy to think she has some lucky object like the rest of us. But does the item of clothing have power? Josey can also sense when the mail carrier is coming, a man named Adam whom Josey has loved (the book says loved, not crushed on) for three years. Another main character named Chloe has books appear out of thin air. They are meant to be the exact book she needs in that exact moment. We meet Chloe when she’s kicking her boyfriend out for admitting an instance of infidelity that happened months ago. Out of thin air appears Finding Forgiveness. Chloe keeps throwing the book away, but it follows her around. Then Old Love, New Direction appears, and Chloe thinks, “Good Lord, [Finding Forgiveness] had called in reinforcements.” You may think the magical realism sounds gimmicky, but it fit seamlessly into the lives of the characters.

The writing is quite funny throughout! Saucy, playful. And I especially love the smells. As a creative writer who reads constantly, I find smells are the weakest of the sense used in fiction. Who honestly smells like pine and cinnamon, or “licorice and old books.” If I have to sit there and struggle to put the smells together, it’s not working. Josey’s mother is superstitious about “unwanted types” getting into her house, so she has peppermint oil made for the maids to put in all the windows and doorways. This has been going on for years. Thus, Josey smells like peppermint all the time. Makes sense! Della Lee, when found in the closet, smells like cigarettes and river water. Also makes sense, given her wet, ragged appearance and background as a wild bar fly. The smells bring the novel a new layer of life.

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Since I chose this book for my Fat Reads challenge, I must comment on that. On page 1, Josey is relieved that it’s getting cold because thin summer dresses make her look like “a loaf of white bread wearing a belt.” Now, this is a description, and Josey doesn’t berate herself, so I accept it. So what if she does look like bread?

But the story is more about food than fat. Yet, food is a complex matter with fat people. We’re told so often to diet that we end up food deprived, and this leads to bingeing, feeling ashamed of eating any type of food in public (even fruits and vegetables), and eating in secrecy. The last one is Josey’s thing; she has a false wall in her closet with food and soda hidden in stockpile. Della Lee uses this secret as blackmail to prevent Josey from telling anyone about Della Lee hiding out. As Josey and Chloe become friends, Josey attempts eating in public:

Slowly, she began to relax. No one was watching. She was eating in pubic and it didn’t feel bad. It felt good, in fact. Wonderful. Maybe it was the food itself. Maybe it was the normalcy of it all.

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It’s pretty common for people, fat and thin, who deprive themselves of food for dieting to worship their food and almost eroticize it. Only when we stop restricting our eating does food lose power. Foods we would “die for” become flavorless. We can have one piece of cake . . . instead of 5 rice cakes plus 3 glasses of water before we “cave in” and eat half a cake, too. Josey’s mother wants Josey to watch her figure, so we get classic restrictive eating in public and bingeing in secrecy. I like the realism of this. It made me think about my own relationship to food. While the novel wasn’t focused on Josey’s fat and the way she moves in public (stairs, chairs, clothes, seat belts), I did appreciate this look into eating in secrecy.

I couldn’t put down The Sugar Queen thanks to its characters, delicious plot, magical realism, and sensory details.

20 books 2017
This is book #9 of my #20BooksofSummer challenge, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books.
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43 thoughts on “The Sugar Queen is book 9 in the #20BooksofSummer challenge @SarahAddisonAll

  1. Ha! I laughed at your comment about older parents. My mother was 37 when I was born and my Dad was 40 – I was quite often asked at school if my Mum was my grandmother! But later I knew a girl who when she was 16 her mother was only 32, and that seemed utterly weird to me… 😉

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    1. Have your read her other books, TJ? I’m thinking about reading them. The Sugar Queen was a fast read, but I didn’t find it babyish in the least (which is what I usually think when I get a book that flies by–that the language is too simplistic, or the like).

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  2. Oddly my husband and I were talking about older parents just recently – I think it was triggered by some article in the news about a celebrity who’d just had another child (he was 60 I think) with his latest partner. I feel sorry for the child; they don’t lose out on love of course, but they do lose out on being able to get out and play sport or be as active maybe

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    1. Possibly. I think that with as health-conscious as people are these days, they would be more likely to get out, even if they are older. Also, the experiences of a 60-year-old parent might make for a calmer, more stable environment for a child. My dad was 19 when he got married, 21 when my brother was born, and 23 when I was born. I’m 32, and I think back to me at 21…I’m sure I’d make some questionable parenting decisions.

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  3. ‘might as well have been dust’ hahaha
    I’m surprised it was able work magic realism in so seamlessly because that’s a really difficult thing to do. And I’ve never noticed that authors don’t typically use the sense of smell, that is such a good point!

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  4. Sounds like a lovely book! Will check it out!
    Btw…books appearing out of thin air would be a pretty awesome super power to have. I’m jealous of that character 😉

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    1. Some of them would appear and Chloe would throw them away. Then, she would find it again later, so it was the same book popping up. When she was done with the book, it disappeared. However, I thought this was weird because throughout her life books appeared–the perfect book that she NEEDED–and she had a huge climate-controlled storage facility filled with them. Maybe not all the books disappear after she doesn’t need them anymore?

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  5. This sounds like a great book, and I’ve just placed it on hold at the library. I like the description of looking like a loaf of bread with a belt–that is also how I look in those flimsy dresses. And regarding older parents, even though my parents were only in their early thirties when I was born, I lived in an area with a really high teenage pregnancy rate, so my parents were ANCIENT compared to everyone else’s. Thanks for your review!

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    1. I think bread is cute 🙂 Now I want a teeny belt to put on my bread! Okay, I’m getting carried away. I’m so glad you want to read this. I think you will enjoy it, unless you are feeling very cynical. Then it’s not the right book to read.

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    1. I think it’s got a bit of the cutesy cheese factor, but because of the inclusion of magical realism, the squishy bits seem like they belong there. I like how the female characters were very balanced. They wanted independence WITHIN a relationship. Many books do one or the other, fully independent or fully dependent on a significant other.

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  6. I love me some magical realism as well and have been really curious about this author’s books. I really love that this one uses sensory language so well. Certain smells have a way of triggering really vivid memories. You’re making me want to read this one so bad! Great review as always.

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  7. I’ve read almost all of her books – except the sequel to Garden Spells, First Frost – I tried it and wasn’t in the right mood or something. Anyway, what I appreciate about the ones I did read is that they’re light(ish) without being stupid. That’s a tricky balance. Glad you enjoyed this!

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  8. I’ve seen her books mentioned for years but have never really got a proper, firm idea of what they were actually like – so thank you for this detailed review. I’ll definitely pick them up if I see them now (I am trying not to actively add anything to the TBR right now: ha, ha, let’s see how long that lasts …).

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  9. Like you, I’ve never heard of The Sugar Queen OR Sarah Addison Allen, so it seems I am out of the loop as well. The concept behind this one sounds like a true “bookworm’s delight.” What bookworm wouldn’t want the power to make the right book at the right time appear out of thin air? I’m happy that you mentioned that the magic realism was well done. I sometimes struggle with magic realism… it can feel a little odd if not done correctly. Happy to see you enjoyed this book so much!

    ” Side note: why are those lists STILL full of erotica? Hooray, fat girls, but we’re not fantasy fodder.”

    Hahaha I laughed out loud at this. You’re my favorite.

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    1. Thank you!! Ugh, if you look at those Goodreads lists, it’s so “acceptably fat” women (meaning pretty much nothing over a size 18) who love to get down and tied up. There are essays about men who hate fat women in public but love to have sex with them in secret because they actually prefer a larger body type, but are ashamed of this fact. That makes the whole book business extra egregious. You can have fat erotica. But you have to have fat other stuff, too.

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  10. Yay! Great review 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I love how you focused on the smells – Sarah Addison Allen’s writing is so descriptive! I love how she writes the setting. While I haven’t loved all of her books, she’s an author that I will always read, as the atmosphere in her books is so enjoyable. My favorite of her books is The Peach Keeper. I hope you enjoy her other books 🙂

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      1. Great! I’ve read those – I think I liked the garden books better than Lost Lake. I think Lost Lake is the only book of hers that I’ve written a review on, so I remember it better than the others 🙂

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  11. I haven’t been to your blog in wayyyyyyy too long. Been thinking of visiting for the last week or so, but my health just got the better of me. But here I am!
    I still haven’t started Kindred, and I haven’t started Dumplin’ yet. But maybe I’ll go with Dumplin’ when my queue lets up, cause I need an upbeat book now 😀
    Loved this review, I feel maybe I should read this too… Oh noooooo my TBR is crying xD

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  12. I read this quite a few years ago now and had forgotten some of the details. You’ve made me want to read it again! I’ve never gone ahead to read any of her others, so if you do, I’ll be interested to know what you think of them!
    Good point about the smells – I often read descriptions of how characters smell and wonder how they could possibly smell like that. I wish I could walk around smelling like a mixture of yummy spices all the time.

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  13. (Ugh! I wrote a response many moons ago, and it just never showed up here! Unacceptable. Stupid WordPress is being mean. Again.)

    Sarah Addison Allen has a soft place in my heart. When I was moving to Madison, WI for work, my mother gave me a copy of Garden Spells to read on the flight. I haven’t read any of her other works yet. Honestly, I forgot about Allen until this moment! I really should check out her work again…

    I digress. I love so much about your review. I never really noticed the lack of smells in writing, but you’re right– I can’t think of a time when they were important enough for me to notice them, at least. I bet, honestly, I’d only notice them if they were really peculiar smells. I wonder why authors omit scents so often? I’ll keep my eye out for more. You also have a great point about fat girls shouldn’t just be “fantasy fodder.” I get so frustrated by the lack of fat characters as protagonists or portrayed in a healthy light when I’m reading. We should see more of this in literature, not just erotica. Grr*

    I also don’t know how I feel about this book superpower. I love the *idea* of it– but I imagine I’d just be getting peddled books about work/life balance, managing my temper, and how to balance a budget. Boring and tedious. XD

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    1. LOL! I’m sure you would get books about other things, too, Jackie. Maybe 101 Ways to Make Delightful Chocolate, or Are You Petting Your Dog Enough?, or The Lonely Swimsuit. I really loved this book, so I hope you read it. If you are feeling like your temper is getting a bit squiffy, try The Sugar Queen. It’s impossible to not feel calm and delighted while reading it. As for smells, I think we don’t get them in books because authors want to be unique but avoid weird/impossible combos. I don’t know why people can’t use brand names. If I say, “He smells like Axe body spray,” American readers will know exactly what I mean!

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      1. Oh man. I would love the book Are You Petting Your Dog enough? Bring that one on. Puppy snuggles while reading are the absolute best.

        I’ve definitely added this to my TBR — I feel like most of Addison’s books seem to fall into the category of “pick me up books”. I’ll save that one for a bad day which I need rescuing from. 🙂

        I just learned another new word! Squiffy! Oh man. I need to read your reviews if ONLY to improve my vocabulary in amazing ways.

        I wonder if authors avoid using brand names in scents in order to prevent excluding people? For example, I don’t know what any Doir perfumes smell like… But I guess that wouldn’t bother me as a reader. Who knows? I’d love to run into some weird ones: “He smells like Vegemite and smoked meats. What a strange combination…”

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