the kitchen reader: the sugar queen

by Stacy

The July selection for The Kitchen Reader book club was The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, chosen by Karen of Shortbread.

The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison AllenThis sweet piece of fiction was a nice change of pace from some recent choices of our online book group (mine included). Food was mentioned for sure, but the title gives food a more prominent position than is realized in the story. That doesn’t make it a bad book, just a misleading title.

Josey, the 27-year-old titular “Sugar Queen,” lives in a North Carolina ski resort town with her controlling mother. Josey’s father, who died when she was young, built the ski resort that put their town on the map and made him a local legend.

Josey lives in the biggest house in town, drives a big gold Cadillac, and hides in her closet to secretly eat sweets.

“…food was a comfort. It filled in the hollow spaces. And it felt good to hide it, because then she could enjoy it alone without worrying about what others though, or about letting her mother down.”

One day she heads into the closet for a snack to discover a local woman inside, dripping wet. This shakes up Josey’s sad routine, forcing her to make some much-needed changes to her life.

My health coach brain took over for the first few chapters as I got to know this emotional eater. Aside from a sandwich shop owned by another central character, the food theme quickly falls by the wayside. Josey thinks wistfully of her closetful of candy at times of stress, but it becomes less important as the plot moves forward. Maybe the lesson is that finding sweetness in other aspects of Josey’s life satisfies that hunger.

It’s a quick read, but I found the writing a bit heavy-handed. The initial character set up seems more predictable than it really is, but the plot twists didn’t surprise me.

The sweetest part of the book is the love story between Josey and her hunky mailman. The ending is never in doubt, but it’s a nice stroll down the path to get there. Isn’t that the comforting aspect of romance stories? Josey’s mother, Margaret, ends up being a very interesting character whose secrets add some needed depth. Her role as antagonist is diluted by the generated sympathy, however.

The sprinkling of magic in the book is concurrently endearing and annoying. Book stalk one character, appearing out of thin air on whatever topic she needs at the time. Another character’s family must keep any promise they make, no matter how small. The author never implies that this is normal, but she doesn’t explain the magic in a satisfying way. Only involving magic when convenient felt too deus ex machina.

Despite its flaws I enjoyed reading the book. A quick hop through some reviews suggest that The Sugar Queen is not Addison Allen’s best work, and I hope they’re right. I’m willing to give her another try.

Have you read The Sugar Queen? What did you think? Check out the Kitchen Reader blogroll for more opinions.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

sarah, simply cooked July 31, 2011 at 8:09 pm

I’m glad you mentioned about Josey being an emotional eater. That made me less taken with the food theme because I was concerned for her health! I found the plot and characters not exactly complex, but this was a nice, light read.


Stacy August 4, 2011 at 8:39 am

In my professional opinion, dealing with her mother and finding her love will help her emotional eating, so don’t worry! 😀


anni August 3, 2011 at 5:51 am

i think that was my most major turn-off when it came time to review this book – josey’s unhealthy eating habits and her shame surrounding food & her weight. i would have liked the story more as a food book if she had made peace with her relationship with food, not just her relationship with her mother and the mailman and her “sisters.”


Stacy August 4, 2011 at 8:40 am

To be fair, I think that healing those relationships was the root of the food issues. The author just didn’t articulate the connection as well as she could have at the end.


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