Sarah Addison Allen: The Sugar Queen

Yay! Another book review! I'm finally getting into the routine of reading again, and it's great. The book today's post is about - The Sugar Queen (2008) by Sarah Addison Allen - is a book I've been meaning to read for a couple of months now, and I'm both sad and happy that I finally got around to it.

Sarah Addison Allen is an author that is fairly new to me, in a way, as I discovered her at the end of 2012. This is the third book of hers that I read out of the five that she has published, and it's this book that made me realize something. The anticipation of her next novel - whenever that is, since she just published one this past January - pretty much mimics that anticipation I have for all of Sakamoto Maaya's releases.

What I'm trying to say is, in the short time that I've known this author, and from the three books I've read of hers, I feel confident in saying that Sarah Addison Allen is my new favorite (living) author. The sadness that exists in this is the fact that, as I mentioned before, she only has five novels, and I'm now done with three of them. I almost feel forced to take my time getting to the last two because the thought of having none left to read is awful.

In any case, the reason I love Sarah Addison Allen's work enough to declare her my favorite author has much to do with The Sugar Queen, and the themes it shares with her other two books that I've read - The Girl Who Chased the Moon and Lost Lake. Which brings us to this post.

It seems logical to start with the more general reasons I have for loving Sarah Addison Allen's work, and I may be repeating myself from the other two reviews I've written about her books so bear with me.

Allen gets complete control over my attention from the first chapter - the first page, even. She starts with a person's story, but quickly throws in a few pinches of oddities and magic. In The Sugar Queen, the oddity is Della Lee who suddenly appears in Josey's closet, and the magic is the briefly glossed over power of red. She then transports you into the sweet setting of the south - to small towns with communities that are close-knit yet still brimming with secrets. And her descriptions are what bring the novel to life: her writing style is unique, not just in the magic she weaves into her stories, but in the way her descriptions are undeniably unexpected. As much as I hate the winter to death here, for example, reading Josey's love for the cold and the snow in the dozens of vivid ways Allen describes it makes me wish I could have read this book during my winter, and seen the beauty of it through Josey's eyes.

What Allen manages to do in The Sugar Queen and her other novels is take the linked stories of multiple characters and inject them with magical details. Intuition becomes a physical pull, ghosts are not only acknowledged by multiple characters - they're real, and love has a much more significant effect on characters. It doesn't just fade away or move on.

Which brings me to my next point: Allen's novels are realistic, but they aren't. I've only been to the south twice, but a huge part of why I love Allen's novels is the warm, charming southern setting she uses for them. Perhaps it's because I live in a pitiful city and am sick of urban lifestyle, but Allen's novels are a true getaway for me. She sets her books in realistically southern towns and includes realistic details of southern culture - in the case of The Sugar Queen, it's the southern treats and candy, as well as winter life near the ski slopes.

But then there's the unrealistic aspect of her novels: that love doesn't just fade. That it is the force to be reckoned with. Love is so strong that one can simply feel it for someone without truly knowing them, and soon be loved in return. It is a power beyond other emotions. And happy endings are around for everyone.

As naive as that may all seem, sometimes that's all I want: for everyone to have a happy ending. Don't get me wrong - the last novel I reviewed, Kristin Hannah's Firefly Lane (which was ironically published the same year as The Sugar Queen), was the exact opposite of this. "Happy" didn't necessarily translate into peaches and cream. In reality, happy isn't always beautiful and anticipated and ideal. It can exist in the weight of sadness and loss, or simply translate into making peace with something that you really don't want to accept. Reading books that capture the ugly reality of life, as well as the beauty embedded within it, the way Firefly Lane does are indeed satisfying and meaningful. After all, I love Firefly Lane, as you'll notice if you read my review for it.

But sometimes, just sometimes, we want to see everyone be happy for a change. We fall in love with these characters, learning about all of their stories and secrets, and we want them to be happy. We want Adam to love Josey in return, we want Chloe to forgive Jake, we want Della Lee - in the case of Josey - to be our sister, even if it means the tarnished image of our family.

Josey is far from the perfect heroine - she is a 27-year old woman who is shut away from the world by her mother, and literally takes emotional comfort in hoarding sweets and secretly eating them in her closet. She isn't the stereotypical, thin image of beauty, she isn't confident, and she doesn't take initiative. But one of the most exciting journeys in the novel is watching her confidence grow, and seeing her win the heart of the man she loves while protecting a newly developed friendship - even at the expense of her mother's approval. Her relationships in the book - to Adam, Chloe, and Della Lee - are what really win this novel for me.

And not to dig up bones or anything, but I'm so happy with the family ending for this novel, compared to the family ending in Lost Lake. One of my problems with Lost Lake was Cricket's radical, unexpected, and illogical change at the novel's end. For Margaret and Josey, however, the happy ending exists through the fact that they aren't together anymore - that the ties between them are permanently severed. As Allen says in her Q&A with Random House Reader's Circle (included at my copy's end): "It's a hard truth, but we are sometimes happier without some people in our lives" (284).

The only other thing I want to talk about before closing this post off - since I feel like I'm winding in all kinds of directions - is Della Lee. Della Lee goes from being a mysterious, quirky character, to being the destructive tool in Josey's memory of her father and family, to being Josey's guardian, and, ultimately, to being someone Josey genuinely loves, mourns, and soon accepts as her half-sister. I don't want to spoil the end completely, but when we reach that point and learn the truth about Della Lee, I almost felt myself tearing up inside. I gained such sympathy and respect for her over the course of the novel, not only on behalf of her history but on behalf of her care towards Josey as well. Della Lee has her happy ending too - everyone does, don't forget - but the change that occurs is one that causes me to miss her, just as Josey does. It's also this specific portion of the ending that makes The Sugar Queen my absolute favorite novel from Allen, and made me realize that I love Allen's writing enough to view her as my favorite author.

Overall, Sarah Addison Allen's The Sugar Queen is a charming and fulfilling novel. It breathes life back into the monotonous activities that make up every day, and it does so through writing that is addictive, to stay in the theme of candy.

As for Allen's novels in general, they inspire me. I don't know what it is about them - perhaps the way they take me away from my life the way a vacation does, while stirring up all kinds of emotions and wonder within me - but they make me want to work on my own novels and finish them. They make me see stories the way I want others to see mine. Some books stunt my desire to write, but Allen's motivate me a thousand times more. I admire her, and am grateful to her, for having that kind of power.

So, if you enjoy warming stories of love, friendship, and magic in simple life, definitely check out The Sugar Queen, and all of Sarah Addison Allen's novels while you're at it. She's a fairly new author, compared to others whose novels I've read, but she has a gift for bringing the ordinary to a mystifying and fantastical level, which I have yet to experience so consistently with other authors.

Thanks for stopping by, and 'til next time. ('<>')>


"She followed the light shining on him through the snow-laden trees, across the sky and to the moon. She stared at it as if seeing it for the first time. The wonder, the mystery, the cool white brightness of it.

It took her breath away." - The Sugar Queen (197)

Curious about my copy? Take a look:

Allen, Sarah Addison. The Sugar Queen. New York: Bantam Dell, 2009. Print.

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