Newest review: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

By Ekta R. Garg

April 16, 2014

Rated: Bookmark it!

A young woman decides she will devote her entire life to take care of her elderly mother to atone for her atrocious behavior as a child. Her plans get disrupted when one day she finds a woman living in her closet. Nothing she can say will convince the woman to leave, and all of a sudden the young woman realizes her life has begun to change in unexpected ways. Author Sarah Addison Allen gives readers this premise in her whimsical book, The Sugar Queen.

Josey Cirrini lives in the resort town of Bald Slope, North Carolina, with her mother, Margaret, and their housekeeper, Helena. As the daughter of the late man who brought Bald Slope back from the brink of economic ruin, Josey should enjoy all of the charms afforded to a Southern belle. The problem? Josey’s mother does everything she can to make Josey’s life miserable. And Josey lives up to the life sentence, because she wants to make up for her behavior in her childhood. Anyone who met Josey now would feel hard pressed to believe that as a child she was horrible.

While Margaret Cirrini has never outright stated that Josey can’t leave Bald Slope, she certainly contributes to the idea. She bullies Josey into carrying out her commands, and she takes every opportunity available to put Josey down. As a result Josey spends her days ferrying her mother from one social function to another and hoarding candy and sweets to eat in the comfort of the secret panel in her closet.

She doesn’t think that anything could possibly change her circumstances, although Josey desperately wants change. And then she finds Della Lee Baker in the closet. Della Lee, the resident bad-girl-turned-waitress, just appears one day and entrenches herself in Josey’s life. Regardless of Josey’s insistence that she leave, Della Lee makes herself at home with a quiet determination. She deflects Josey’s questions and instead makes her own astute observations about Josey’s life. Before she knows it, Josey begins to find ways to accommodate Della Lee.

Things begin changing dramatically. Josey meets Chloe, a young woman on the verge of a breakup with her boyfriend after finding out he cheated on her. Jake expresses his regret at every opportunity, but Chloe doesn’t want to hear it. She turns to Josey for emotional and moral support and Josey, tickled at the idea of having a friend, fills the role with happiness and gratitude.

Chloe has her own secrets. Books follow her around, appearing when she least expects them. It doesn’t help that they hound her especially when she tries to avoid Jake. She doesn’t want their advice. She wants Jake—and the books—to leave her alone.

She can’t tell Josey about the books, but she can help Josey with Josey’s crush. For three years Josey has nursed feelings for Adam, the hot guy who delivers the mail. Exactly why does a man Adam’s age spend his days delivering mail? Josey doesn’t know. She only knows that whenever Adam comes close, he draws her like a magnet to metal. When Della Lee shows up in Josey’s closet, the attraction to Adam suddenly becomes stronger and Josey finds herself in the middle of a social mess. It’s upsetting and thrilling all at the same time, and Josey doesn’t know how to handle it all.

Author Sarah Addison Allen delights with her characters and storyline. She blurs the line between realism and fantasy with such ease that readers will wish they could live in Bald Slope dodging books and looking for wayward waitresses in their closets. At the heart of her story lie the identifiable issues of life: wanting to fit in, troubled relationships with parents, dealing with mistakes made against us by those we love, and trying to redeem ourselves by doing the right thing.

Some readers might dismiss The Sugar Queen as “chick lit,” but it certainly offers more than surface-level entertainment. For those willing to read between the lines, it shows a humorous look at life as we live it. For that reason and many others I highly recommend The Sugar Queen.