Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

Published by Hodder

I found this to be a very unusual book, a fairy tale in concept perhaps, bringing to mind thoughts of Cinderella, maybe even Sleeping Beauty. I loved it. A revelation in a way. Part pathos, yet very funny, with magic thrown in for good measure.

Our heroine, Josey, daughter of the very rich but deceased Marco Cirrini, is a perfect example of the way some people live their lives demoralized, feeling unworthy of anything better, and basically isolated from their surroundings. She lives with an adversarial mother who expects Josey to wait on her, stay home always, be available whenever she wants her, yet doesn't really like or want her. What happens to these people when something in their lives changes? How wonderful it would be to have something vastly out of the ordinary open a whole new life. This, then, is the basis of the story.

Sarah Addison Allen has an inimitable way of looking at things, a superb imagination, as in her debut book Garden Spells. In The Sugar Queen, she has changed direction while maintaining that bit of magic and illusion found in her first book.

Josey is approaching thirty, living with her mother in the luxurious home her father bought when he made his fortune building the ski resort that made the town the place to be in winter. Making up the third person in the household is the housemaid, of unknown nationality, but a woman full of superstition. Josey's only pleasure in life is found behind a false wall in her closet where she stores "lots and lots" of sweets, romance paperbacks, and travel magazines. One winter morning she finds something else in her closet: an interloper, Della Lee Baker, the hard luck, tough-talking girl of the town and about as unlike Josey as she can be. The last person in the world Josey would think of as a fairy godmother. But Della Lee is about to change Josey's life, with or without her consent or knowledge of her machinations. The interaction between these two is funny and perceptive. The housemaid, Helena (or is she?), is sure something bad is in the house and casts superstitious spells around the house, adding to the fun.

It is difficult to review this book without spoilers, so I will cut to the chase. Through Della Lee, Josey meets several people, some good, some bad. She learns to make friends, especially Chloe, who needs Josey as much as Josey needs her, but neither are aware of it when they meet. She learns how to live outside of her own imposed isolation. What draws these three girls together? Why is Josey able to feel such an affinity with them as she becomes more familiar with them? There is action, danger, mystery, and many secrets to be revealed as Josey begins to open up to the world. Why is Della Lee still living in her closet? What is the big secret surrounding Josey?

If you liked fairy tales as a child you'll recognize some similarities, but this is not a fairy tale, much as it contains what appears to be magic. This is a story of life and living it, not wasting it. Great fun, but there is truth in the overall picture of how people's lives can become so mixed up and self-damaging. But like a fairy tale there is a happy ending, although tinged with sadness. I really enjoyed the trip through Sarah Addison Allen's imagination once again and look forward to more.

My review for Garden Spells can be viewed here.


Kaye said...

Loved, loved the Sugar Queen. The Peach Keeper is a wonderful read too.

nightreader said...

I'll have to get that one, I haven't read it yet. I love this author's books.