The Sugar Queen is the story of Josey Cirrini, a twenty-seven-year-old woman who lives at her mother’s beck and call in a North Carolina ski town. Beaten down by her mother’s constant criticism, Josey resorts to hiding sweets and paperback romance novels in her closet, the only source of pleasure she finds in her dreary existence. All that changes when one day she finds a woman hiding out in her closet. Della Lee Baker, a woman with a “reputation,” is hiding from something in her life that she isn’t quite ready to face yet. She moves into Josey’s closet and together the two of them begin to try and change Josey’s miserable existence (albeit unwillingly, in Josey’s case.)
Della Lee steers Josey toward Chloe, a sandwich shop owner, who is despondent as well. Josey finds her first true friend in Chloe, much to her mother’s dismay. As Josey begins learning how to live her own life, she must cope with her mother’s constant disapproval, as well as trying to change her image in the eyes of the town – after all, she’s not that misbehaving nine-year-old girl anymore. Along the way, she finds happiness in the most unexpected places, as well as the truth about who she, Chloe, and Della Lee really are.
The Sugar Queen is a syrupy sweet tale of love and self-discovery. It is definitely cheesy in some places, and a lot of the book requires the reader to suspend their disbelief in order to the read. The novel rails on about how Josey was the worst child – she threw tantrums, broke things on purpose, etc. – but after her father died, she realized how awful she had been (at the age of nine, mind you) and vowed to make it up to her mother. Eighteen years later, the town still judges her on how she acted as a child. It is hard to believe she would not find forgiveness in that amount of time.
Elements of magic within the story add some character but take away from the story’s connection with reality. Chloe has a special connection with books, for example. They magically appear whenever they think she needs to take a certain direction in her life. However, the magic isn’t as much of an issue as the unbelievable plot points. It gives the novel a certain quirkiness and makes it unique.
The main issue with the novel is its similarity to Allen’s previous work, Garden Spells. While Garden Spells was a delightful novel, it would have been nice to see something a little different in her follow-up. That being said, The Sugar Queen is still an enjoyable book that is definitely worth reading.
Underneath it all, The Sugar Queen is a simple and sweet book about a woman who doesn’t know how to live. It definitely is a feel-good novel, and as long as you are willing to go with it rather than questioning every unlikely thing that happens along the way, you will enjoy it. I look forward to Allen’s next work, though I hope she changes up the formula a bit this time.